Lee’s Summit license plate reader proposal advances to City Council

rpulley@lsjournal.comSeptember 20, 2013 

An ordinance setting the policy for Lee’s Summit police using license plate readers will go the City Council now that a subcommittee finished its work on it.

The council’s Community and Economic Development Committee – David Mosby, Allan Gray, Derek Holland and Rob Binney – voted 4-0 to send an amended ordinance to the full council.

The police department wants to use camera-equipped patrol cars that would take pictures of hundreds of license plates as the officer drives on his duty. The system compares the numbers to database shared by law enforcement agencies to see if they match vehicles associated with crimes. Or known criminals, such as sex offenders, depending on the parameters the department sets for the program.

If there’s a match, the system alerts the officer who can then take steps for investigating.

Holland said he had changed his mind about supporting use of license plate readers if it included safeguards.

The proposed ordinance, amended by the committee at its Wednesday Sept. 17 meeting, allows police to use the system but requires:

•  destroying data collected after 30 days, except that individual records being used in an active investigation can be held for an indefinite period.

•  outlaws putting readers at traffic light or post, or on an aircraft, manned or unmanned.

•  only releases data to a third party with a court order.

Deputy City Attorney John Mautino said the 30-day limit was recommended because it would comply with state law. He said will research whether the third-party restriction is a problem and would present that to the council.

Holland said he wasn’t concerned about present police officials or city administration, but the City Council is also setting precedent for the future.

“It’s relatively new technology and we should use caution,” Holland said.

He said 30 days of storages isn’t a concern from a civil libertarian standpoint, but he’d object to using the readers for prolonged surveillance of a neighborhood or intersection.

Chairman Mosby agreed and asked if that was being considered, noting it hadn’t been mentioned in earlier discussions.

Police Chief Joe Piccinini said there were situations where place a license plate reader in a fixed spot could help the department solve a problem.

He gave the example of a shopping center with repeated purse snatchings. A reader could be posted at entrances and record cars the come to the center and maybe detect a pattern for a certain vehicle and the purse snatchings.

“There’s not an intention now,” Piccinini said. “But I can see in the future putting them in a stationary position for a period of time.” It would be temporary use for a particular situation, he said.

Holland said he understood, but said 99.5 percent of Lee’s Summit residents are law abiding.

“We should look at them as law abiding citizens first,” Holland said. “The question is how much liberty are we going to give up to prevent crime.”

Binney said he trusts the police department and noted that in the information age, nearly every one uses telephones or devices creating a trail of data.

Binney said he thinks the concerns about city surveillance of residents with drones is a little far-fetched.

“We’re having trouble mowing, let alone buying an airplane or a drone,” Binney said.

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