License Plate Recognition cameras, or LPRs, do exactly what they suggest. They can capture the license plates of vehicles and match them with those that have been involved in a crime.
This technology is expected to help Sugarland police nab criminals before they leave the city. Sugarland has had LPR cameras for at least the last four years. But now there are only eight of them.
These are mostly in the Town Square area, mounted on poles and patrol vehicles. The new cameras will be placed on all major thoroughfares in the city, like Eldridge and West Airport Road. Sugarland Police Chief Douglas Brinkley wants to add 138 of them.
"It’s just another tool in our tool box to actually solve crimes."
The proposal before city council also seeks to add seventy surveillance cameras and explore options for accessing the video systems of outside organizations, such as home owners associations and commercial businesses.
Dotty Griffith of ACLU Texas urges caution in the use of such technology. She believes there may not be sufficient checks and balances on programs like this.
"License plate readers like all technology can make mistakes, so sometimes the numbers are wrong, the readers are wrong. We also worry about the privacy implications and who has access to the information; what its used for; how long it is stored and generally how it’s used.
Chief Brinkley disagrees and claims there is no cause for concern, as the LPR cameras will be controlled by the police department.
"They will not be aimed at any private residences or private businesses. Basically all they do is take footage of the major roadways. The major roadways are open to the public. That’s information that we already are able to capture. So there’s really no privacy issues. This will be a very secure system, only accessed by the city and by the police department."
At Sugarland’s Town Center people’s reaction to the proposal were mixed.
"I guess I’m not sure. It could be a good thing if someone was involved in some type of crime. But then again, if you wasn’t then, that could also be invading people’s privacy, pretty much."
"It would be understandable if there was like a child that was kidnapped and they was able to identify the culprit by the license plate to help find the child. In instance like then I could understand, but just to be able to do it for profiling people by looking at your license plates to build a profile and then see whether it’s worth them pulling them over for their different color of their skin or their race, now that I would object to."
The total cost of the cameras will be $3 million dollars. But first city council will have to find a way to fund it. The funding process will be part of the council’s budget discussions over the next two months.
This story was written by Nibin Thomas and voiced by Edel Howlin.