Police will add another license plate reader

With little discussion, the Wilton Board of Selectmen voted Monday to add a license plate reader (LPR) to another Wilton police cruiser.

Wilton will now have two cruisers equipped with LPRs.

These readers automatically scan every license plate within their range — on roads and in parking lots — and cross-check that information against missing person, wanted person, and vehicle registration information.

Funds for the reader, which costs approximately $18,000, will come from a state grant that Wilton Deputy Chief Robert Crosby referred to as the “LPR grant.” After that, the cost to operate the LPR would come from the police department budget.

“This is quite an asset for our town to have,” Deputy Chief Crosby said at Monday’s meeting. “No officer can type and check records that quickly.”

In addition to quickly checking information, license plate readers record every license plate they “see” in a massive data dump site at the Newington Police Department, allowing officers to “add additional information to warrants,” he said.

For instance, the deputy chief explained, if a suspect is believed to have committed a crime, a license plate reader may have picked up their plate in the area on the day the incident occurred. The department would then add that coincidental information to an arrest warrant.

Police statewide are prevented from selling the data they collect via LPR technology, Deputy Chief Crosby said, and can only use it for law enforcement purposes.

There is no limit on the length of time a department may hold this information, and Wilton stores its information indefinitely, the deputy chief said.

Calls to the Connecticut ACLU and Newington Police Department went unreturned by deadline.

However, previous statements by ACLU attorneys paint a different picture of the license plate reader story.

ACLU Connecticut staff attorney David McGuire told the Connecticut Post in March 2014 his concern is not with the practical function of an LPR, but with the way the data it collects is stored.

“When the system matches a license plate scan to a vehicle listed as stolen, unregistered or uninsured, it produces an alert so that a police officer can pull the vehicle over,” Mr. McGuire told The Post. “Used in this way, (automated license plate recognition) systems are an important, helpful and powerful tool for law enforcement. The trouble arises when license plate scan data is collected, pooled and archived for months or years, storing a detailed and vivid picture of the movements of drivers who are not even suspected of doing anything wrong.”

He went on to say the large pools of data equate to “retroactive surveillance of innocent people without a warrant, without probable cause and without any form of judicial oversight.”