Westminster to continue use of license plate readers

The Westminster Common Council voted unanimously Monday to continue allowing the use of license plate readers (LPRs) by the police department while restricting how long data collected by the devices can be stored.

Once again stressing their concerns with resident privacy, council members approved of the police department's use of LPRs — technology that scans license plates automatically during an officer's routine patrol to search for vehicles that might be stolen or linked to an open warrant — but added the stipulation that data collected be deleted on a daily basis.

"For the average guy, not doing a darn thing wrong, that wants to park his car wherever he wants to park it, there is no reason for us to be recording that," Councilman Tony Chiavacci said.

During a 90-day trial period from November through February, which was approved by the council in October, Westminster police officers used the devices to scan 67,934 license plates, according to police chief Jeff Spaulding.

These scans resulted in 1,177 alerts and 93 traffic stops. Officers recovered a stolen car, served four warrants, made 24 arrests ranging from drug possession to driving on a suspended license, and issued 55 must appear violations for "significant traffic offenses," Spaulding said.

Spaulding described the LPRs as "clearly useful tools" for police officers.

Council members had previously voiced concerns that innocent residents may be pulled over due to outdated data in the system.

Spaulding said that out of the 93 traffic stops, there were three instances where an individual was stopped for an alert of suspended tags or registration and showed police documentation that the information had been updated.

In one instance, an individual was approached by police at a gas station for a silver alert, a broadcast of missing persons that are elderly, that was two years old.

While the council decided to have police delete its collected data daily, Spaulding had recommended the council approve the use of license plate readers while syncing its data collected to a national database.

By doing so, police officers would receive immediate updates of warrants issued. By not submitting collected data to the database, Westminster officers will instead need to download updated data manually, most likely at the beginning of each shift, Spaulding said.

Although Spaulding preferred that the city connect with the national database, he said the council's decision would not hinder police efforts.

"This is certainly workable," he said. "This is a far better solution, in my view, than eliminating the program."

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