Lee’s Summit police will continue using license plate readers

rpulley@lsjoural.comOctober 16, 2013 

Lee’s Summit police will continue using license plate readers, after the City Council agreed on some stipulations to get its support.

The council voted unanimously on Oct. 10, with little discussion, to approve an ordinance “acknowledging” the use of license plate readers.

It set these policy limits:

• Records can be retained for 30 days only

• Records cannot be released to third parties, unless there is a court order, and they are part of a specific criminal investigation

• No license plate readers can be used attached to stationary objects like a building or pole, or used on aircraft, manned or unmanned

The department at this time plans to keep one patrol car equipped with the $25,000 system, which it had been running on a trial basis.

Since Jan. 1, the system has registered 5,183 hits, with officers taking action 126 times that resulted in some type of contact, said Sgt. Chris Depue, police spokesman in an Oct. 14 statement.

That contact could have been an arrest, a citation or a written warning for a violation.

They included three drug offenses, one weapons offense, four cases of recovered stolen property, 87 warrant arrests and 29 traffic stops.

“Sometimes those hits are generated on items that we would not take action on, such as an out of state traffic warrant or municipal parking warrant,” Depue said. “It could also be that the ‘hit’ was generated on a vehicle that is not occupied at the time, so the officer would take no action.”

Some council members initially resisted retaining records at all, but police department attorneys said state law required 30 days minimum for retaining records.

Before the vote, Councilman Bob Johnson said he thought that the state law on retaining records might not apply in this circumstance.

Council members already had heartily discussed the issues earlier at council and at the Community and Economic Development Committee meetings.

For several months, they weighed the tool’s ability to catch crooks against increased surveillance of residents and protecting civil liberties.

City Manager Steve Arbo had told the council that while under the city’s charter, it is the decision of himself and Police Chief Joe Piccinini to choose its equipment, he was not willing to have police using the readers without the Council’s support.

The system has several cameras mounted on the car, which is capable of processing thousands of photographs of license plates daily as the officer drives, comparing the numbers automatically to a national database shared by agencies.

If a license plate number matches one in the database, the officer’s computer alerts him to the “hit” with beep and a picture of the vehicle that was the match.

The officer then can use other police databases to check the registration and get other information.

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