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City quietly installs license plate readers at major intersection

The city has quietly installed license plate readers above at least one intersection to help solve crimes.

The city did not answer questions about the new equipment Monday, but a police source confirmed that the new equipment is there to capture license plate numbers.

The source said the system is not up and running yet but will be used to investigate crimes.

The city installed the readers above the intersection of Broadway and Bailey Avenue last week. It’s not known how many other license plate readers may have been installed throughout the city or where they might be located.

The Brown administration was asked a series of questions about the technology Monday morning, including: how the readers will be used, how much the system cost, and how is it funded, how long the city will store the information, how many readers will be installed and their locations.

The city had not responded by Monday evening.

The license plate readers shouldn’t be confused with red-light cameras, which capture the images of drivers who run red lights, leading to traffic tickets being mailed to drivers’ homes. The city had considered installing red-light cameras in 2011, but the idea was scrapped.

The Common Council never voted explicitly on installing the new license plate readers, and Council members whose districts border the Broadway-Bailey intersection did not know about them until they were asked about them by The Buffalo News.

The license plate readers are mounted next to traffic signals on each of four mast arms that stretch out over the roadway. One reader is suspended over each lane.

This marks the first time the readers have been mounted at intersections, though Buffalo police officers have the ability to look up license plate information from computers in their patrol cars, and some patrol cars are equipped with the readers.

Buffalo police also use stationary surveillance cameras, and the city has received hundreds of requests from block clubs for additional cameras. The surveillance cameras are used to solve crimes and are also thought to deter crime.

On Long Island earlier this month, lawmakers in the Town of Glen Cove approved the installation of license plate readers, but not without responding to privacy concerns from the public.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a study in July that found that license plate captures had reached the millions nationwide, and when used in many locations, can create a picture of a driver’s daily routine. The study raised questions about how long police departments keep the information they collect about drivers not involved in crimes, how the information is used, and who has access to it.

Broadway stretches from downtown east to Cheektowaga, and Bailey Avenue is a north-south route that goes through the city’s East Side and up through University Heights to Amherst.

News staff reporter Lou Michel contributed to this report. email: