In the aftermath of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releasing a lengthy research project about U.S. law enforcement agencies’ use of domestic surveillance technology, new details have emerged about police departments in Idaho and their utilization of license plate scanners.
“The program allows for us to track stolen vehicles, locate fugitives, aid in Amber Alerts, runaway juveniles, missing persons, etc.,” said Sgt. Christie Wood, spokesperson for the Coeur d’Alene Police Department.
In an email exchange, Wood acknowledged what had been told to IdahoReporter.com last week by a spokesperson of the Idaho State Police (ISP): The Coeur d’Alene Police Department uses technology that scans and records the images of vehicles’ license plates, making a record of the time, date and location that the image was recorded.
Last week, the ACLU published its findings indicating that local law enforcement agencies throughout the country are using this type of technology. In an extensive report entitled “You Are Being Tracked: How License Plate Readers Are Being Used To Record Americans’ Movements,” the ACLU says that an expanding network of police cameras is capturing, storing and sharing data on virtually every vehicle in America that has a license plate attached to it, enabling government agencies to track people’s movements whether or not they are violating any laws.
Wood told IdahoReporter.com that her city’s scanning technology was acquired with a $90,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). She said the city has been using this technology since 2011, but did not know where the collected data was stored or for how long it is stored.
She advised IdahoReporter.com to contact the Post Falls Police Department for further information, noting that the two city police departments work in conjunction with one another, and that the Post Falls Police Department controls the collected data. “We only have access to the data for law enforcement purposes,” she explained.
“Post Falls was one of the first cities in the nation to use this technology,” said Scot Haug, chief of police in Post Falls.” “It started to become popular in 2005 and 2006 in the U.K., and we began using it in 2007.”
Haug confirmed that Post Falls works in collaboration with the city of Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County in utilizing the license plate scanning technology. According to him, Post Falls acquired its scanner technology with a grant of approximately $150,000 from DHS. That money, along with the federal funds acquired by the city of Coeur d’Alene, was initially used in 2007 to purchase scanner devices to outfit three patrol cars between the cities and to purchase four fixed scanner cameras.
Haug added that since 2007 the license plate scanning efforts have now expanded to include five fixed scanner cameras, and that none of the data collected from Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene during the past six years has ever been deleted.
Along with locating fugitives, tracking stolen vehicles and the many other benefits that Wood notes, Haug also believes that the license plate scanning technology has also proven beneficial as both a crime prevention and a suicide prevention tool.
“We had an incident wherein a person from Seattle had left a suicide note and then left their home, traveled across the state line in to Idaho and into our city,” he explained. Noting that the Post Falls Police Department was able to use the scanning technology to help identify the suicidal driver’s vehicle, he said that “we were able to stop that driver and offer them help. I think we helped save a life in that situation.”
Further, Haug noted that “there was another situation involving a young couple from Yakima who had robbed individuals and stolen vehicles in the state of Washington. We were able to apprehend them shortly after they crossed the border into Idaho and we believe we may have prevented further crimes from happening here.”
When asked if he believed that the technology could entail risks to people’s privacy, Haug stated “I believe the correct way to answer that is to say ‘yes.’ Certainly this type of technology can pose a risk to private citizens if it is not guided by proper policy and managed by the right personnel. I’d ask people to have faith in their policymakers and in their law enforcement personnel.”
Haug writes frequently for professional journals on the usage of law enforcement technology. One of his articles on license plate scanning technology appears HERE.
IdahoReporter.com’s initial report on this subject is available HERE.