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Police implement controversial license scanning technology

Published On: Jun 27 2014 08:47:12 PM CDT
REDDING, Calif. -

Chico Police have implemented a new tool in the fight against crime.

It’s called an automatic license plate reader, or ALPR. It’s the only one in the Northstate being used by a municipal police department.

Three cameras are mounted on the vehicle’s light bar. The cameras scan license plates as cars go by and notify officers with an alert when there’s a hit from any one of nine databases.

“That's going to get our attention,” said Chico Police Officer Terry Tupper. “What it brought up was a photograph of the vehicle.  It brought up the license plate picture that it took, and the numerics as it read it."

Several police officers, including Officer Tupper, have been pushing for the reader. Tupper said that it’s been effective in the two months the department has been using it.

"There's one officer here, he himself has already gotten three rolling hits. A lot of the hits we get are on parked vehicles, maybe abandoned stolens, that sort of thing, or stolen plates, which is obviously a preferable thing for owners and insurance companies to get their cars back,” Tupper said. “But as a police officer obviously the easiest thing for us is to find the vehicle rolling, because it improves our chances of actually getting someone in custody for a crime."

There are some concerns in the community about invasion of privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU has challenged its use in other places, so far unsuccessfully.

Officer Terry encourages anyone who has doubts to do some research.

"This unit is only detecting license plates that are in the public domain,” Terry said. “So there is no change in our ability to run license plates by having this unit. This just increases our efficiency in doing that."

Data from the program can only be kept for one year in the system.

Money raised by a private group called the Chico Police Department Business Support Team purchased the license plate reader for $25,000.