High Point police chief explains use of license plate cameras

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HIGH POINT, N.C. -- High Point Police Chief Marty Sumner defended and explained his department's use of automated license plate readers Thursday.

The ACLU criticized the use of the cameras, saying "...many departments are keeping innocent people’s location information stored for years or even indefinitely, regardless of whether there is any suspicion of a crime."

Sumner said the cameras have incredible potential as a crime fighting tool, because they allow officers to scan every car immediately surrounding them to find out if it is stolen or involved in a crime.

Sumner also said the information is stored for up to a year and then it's deleted.

He further clarified the information that is and is not recorded, saying, "It doesn't store who the tag is registered to. Doesn't store anything else about you. It's says the tag the date the time and the X-Y coordinates of where."

The ACLU submitted public records requests to many departments and found 11 municipalities use the cameras.

According to information furnished by the HPPD and sent to the ACLU, High Point's cars registered more than 70,000 scans from August 2011 to June 2012. They resulted in a little over 50 hits.

The cameras transmit images to an in-car laptop, where they are cross-checked with a National Crime Information Center "hot list." The hot list is a list of cars reported stolen or cars sought by other law enforcement agencies.

If an officer's camera system registers a hit, he or she must still call dispatch and confirm the hit with a human being. Then he or she must call for backup before making a stop.

Sumner said any use of the information beyond the fact that a car was at a certain location at a certain time of day would have to go through a detailed vetting process.

"It would take a lot of work, and that would have to be authorized by me, and there would have to be a specific investigative purpose for that," Chief Sumner said.

The High Point Police Department purchased two of the camera systems in 2010 with about $50,000 in federal grant money.

Sumner said he believes the policy in place prevents abuse, and if the cameras were not so expensive, he'd try to get his department more of them.

"Monitoring, analysis, what could be done with it versus what's actually being done; there's a difference there, and I hope people understand that," Sumner said.