Denver police implement license plate scanners

Posted on Jun 23, 2015

Police officers in Denver can now sit in their patrol cars and receive notifications when residents with outstanding warrants or stolen vehicles drive by. So far, the Denver Police Department has found success with the new technology.

Having an impact on crime control right out of the gate
In its initial 47 days of use, the license-plate scanner led to a number of arrests and recovered stolen vehicles that made Denver Police Chief Robert White proud. In just that month and a half, 52 stolen cars were recovered, 40 citations were issued and 71 arrests were made. Eleven of those arrests were for felonies, according to The Denver Post.

Midway through the initial 47 days, only one vehicle had been equipped with the scanner. When that number increased to a total of six vehicles citywide on May 1, Denver police saw more than 30 vehicles operated by individuals suspected of breaking a law in just one hour. The Post reported that, out of the 457,155 cars that were scanned in total, 9,341 of them counted as hits in the system.

When an officer is parked on the side of the road with his scanner, every license plate that drives by goes through a computer in the officer's vehicle. From there, law enforcement agents are notified if they need to take action. The information they collect remains in the police department's database, regardless of whether the passing driver is registered as a hit or not. 

According to NPR, these scanners can also be found on traffic lights and are being used by repossession agents.

Public concern and police response
The new practice, meant to help protect residents from suspected law-breakers, has brought on criticism from Denver residents concerned about the way it collects and manages data in the long run.

"52 stolen cars were recovered and 71 arrests were made."

Denver residents attended public forums where they expressed their concerns about the new technology. Some questioned how long the information would be in police custody and whether it could be altered or shared with other law enforcement agencies. 

Denver police expect public sentiment to improve over time as the technology goes on to play a bigger part in police work. 

"People - citizens or police officers - have to know that in this day and age, there's a high chance that you're being recorded, whether it's on a HALO camera or on somebody's cellphone at Walmart," said Lt. Chris Peters of the Parker Police Department to The Denver Post. "We're all just under surveillance all the time."

Using technology to improve police work
While law enforcement and government officials work to draw up a plan of what license-plate scanner practices will and won't be considered legal, they will continue to use the technology to protect public safety. If those same law enforcement officials choose to do so, systems such as NC4 Street Smart could allow agencies like the Denver police to share data throughout the department to make their jobs that much easier.

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