The in basket: Jerry Jurgens of Poulsbo e-mails to say “I recently heard on the radio that some state in the mid-west had a policy of having police taking photos of the license plates of cars in a general and continuous format, not just when they were stopping a vehicle for some citation or infraction.
“That, in and of itself, seemed a bit Big Brotherish but what sort of raised my hackles was that everyone could acquire that information through the freedom of information act. That means that an insurance company, a jealous wife, a predator, etc. could get records of where your vehicle goes on a routine basis and where it had been on a number of specific days.
“Does Washington State take photos of license plates and if they do, what is the policy as to who has access to that information?” Jerry asked.
The out basket: I asked only the State Patrol and Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office about this, and both say they have such a capability.
Trooper Russ Winger of WSP says it “utilizes the ALPR (Automated License Plate Reader) in two capacities at the moment.
“The Auto Theft Division utilizes some vehicles equipped with the camera/computer system to identify possible stolen license plates and vehicles. If there is a ‘hit’ on a plate, the detective can investigate further and has several ways of cross checking about the validity of the hit prior to taking action to stop and identify the vehicle and driver/occupants, if present.” Any information not of value to those purposes is automatically purged from the system each 60 days, he said..
“Another use of the ALPR is at the WSF terminals,” Russ said. “WSP’s Division of Homeland Security uses the system to screen vehicles. Only law enforcement has access to the WSP information and the same retention policy is utilized for stored information.
Deputy Scott Wilson of KCSO says, “The sheriff’s office has one ALPR installed within its fleet of marked patrol vehicles, as a result of a grant from the federal government. It’s use has added to the sheriff’s office capabilities to check for stolen vehicles or those identified as being involved in major felony criminal cases.
“Unless the ALPR detects a vehicle that has been previously reported stolen (as the scan is taking place), the sheriff’s deputy operating the ALPR has no access to the information contained in the ALPR database.
“License plate scans into the ALPR database are downloaded at the end of the deputy’s shift and retained by the sheriff’s office for six months. Access to this information is limited within the sheriff’s office to supervisors and is granted when there is a law enforcement investigatory purpose,” Scott said.
He also said Kitsap Sun reporter Josh Farley wrote an article about the installed ALPRs in local law enforcement patrol vehicles in November 2009.