Brooklyn Center to add license plate readers

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 9, 2012 - 9:44 PM

The cameras will be installed in squad cars as a measure to reduce auto thefts. The city has had an uptick in car thefts this year.

Brooklyn Center will become the latest law enforcement agency to install squad car cameras that read license plates, another tool in its effort to reduce auto thefts.

The data from the two cameras will be used by officers in real time to identify a stolen vehicle or a driver who is wanted for current criminal activity, said Police Chief Kevin Benner. The data will not be stored after an alert because it doesn't serve any law enforcement purpose, he said. A camera can read hundreds of plates an hour.

Benner cited a recent Star Tribune article about the cameras' use in Minneapolis and standards to govern how police classify and retain plate-reader data. Without a state law, police departments are free to set their own policies on how long they keep the information. Anybody can make a request for the data.

The State Patrol deletes location data after 48 hours, St. Paul police erase it in 14 days and Minneapolis told a privacy advocate last year that the city retains it for a year.

If the Legislature creates statutory language about the length of time a department can retain the data or whether any of it would be classified as private and not available to the public, Benner said Brooklyn Center police would revisit the issue.

Agencies using the the cameras in the metro area include Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington, Maplewood, Washington County and the State Patrol. In March, the state Department of Commerce issued grants for more departments to purchase readers, including four for the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office. Brooklyn Park said it will take a "wait and see" approach before considering the cameras.

The Brooklyn Center City Council approved a $48,000 grant Aug. 27 for two cameras, which should be available for use in the next several weeks. Benner's department already receives grant money for an officer assigned only to auto thefts and stolen auto part cases, such as "chop shops."

"This is a valuable tool for our toolbox," he said. "This allows us to apprehend criminals as quick as possible."

Brooklyn Center had a record low number of auto thefts last year, but had 76 this year through roughly the end of August. The idea to apply for the grant for the cameras came from the officer dedicated to auto theft cases.

The cameras will benefit all metro law enforcement agencies because they will be informed about vehicles stolen from their jurisdictions, said Benner.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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