It will soon be up to the Lee’s Summit City Council to settle a privacy debate that arose after the police department said it wanted to fight crime with equipment that can photograph license plates at lightning speed.
The department wants to use camera-equipped patrol cars that would take pictures of hundreds of license plates as the officer drives on his duty.
The system compares the numbers to a database shared by law enforcement agencies to see if they match vehicles associated with crimes. Or known criminals, such as sex offenders, depending on parameters the department sets for the program.
If there’s a match, the system alerts the officer who can then take steps for investigating.
But a lot of people in Lee’s Summit, including some members of the City Council, have expressed concern about the potential for misuse when authorities collect so much data on the whereabouts of average citizens.
Last week, however, a City Council committee voted unanimously to send the full council an amended ordinance governing the use of the readers. Those voting were David Mosby, Allan Gray, Derek Holland and Rob Binney.
The proposed ordinance allows police to use the system with these limitations:
• The data collected must be destroyed after 30 days, unless individual records are being used in an active investigation. Then the data can be held indefinitely.
• Readers cannot be put a traffic light or post, or on an aircraft, manned or unmanned.
• Data can be released to a third party only with a court order.
Holland said 30 days of storages isn’t a concern from a civil libertarian standpoint, but he’d object to using the readers for prolonged surveillance of a neighborhood or intersection.
Police Chief Joe Piccinini said there were situations where placing a license plate reader in a fixed spot could be helpful. If purse snatchings were occurring at a shopping center, for example, readers could be posted at entrances — perhaps enabling police to find an association between the crims and a certain vehicle.
“There’s not an intention now,” Piccinini said. “But I can see in the future putting them in a stationary position for a period of time.”
Holland, who has changed his opposition to the readers as long as safeguards are included, said he understood. But he also said 99.5 percent of Lee’s Summit residents obey the law.
“We should look at them as law abiding citizens first,” Holland said. “The question is how much liberty are we going to give up to prevent crime.”