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Another Voice: License plate readers help keep the public safe

By Joseph L. Giacalone

It seems like every time you hear lawmakers discussing potential legislation, they speak of enacting “common-sense policies.” Such policies, common sense tells us, would benefit the citizens in whose best interest they are voted into law. It seems so simple, yet lawmakers can, and do, miss the point.

A prime example is playing out here in New York, where State Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, has proposed a ban on commercial license plate recognition (LPR) technology. That is, technology used to scan publicly available license plate information, in real time, to locate and recover automotive assets, detect fraud and reduce risk.

Over the last five years, LPR technology has become an invaluable tool to the insurance and financial service industries as well as law enforcement agencies. At the same time, it has also become a source of debate in statehouses across the country.

As New York takes up the LPR debate, it is important to ignore the emotional arguments and examine the facts. The facts are clear: A commercial ban would have serious adverse effects on businesses, consumers and law enforcement agencies.

I’ll leave it to the financial services and insurance companies to discuss how commercial LPR helps them recover assets, reduce risk on delinquent portfolios and lower interest and insurance rates for New York consumers.

I am a retired New York Police Department detective sergeant and I have seen LPR’s ability to help solve crimes, put the guilty in jail and provide some closure for victims and their families.

A ban on commercial LPR will negatively affect public safety. Law enforcement agencies across the country have adopted LPR solutions to solve major crimes, identify stolen vehicles and apprehend criminals. In addition, license plate scans help keep officers safe by giving them real-time intelligence related to vehicles that are in their vicinity.

Commercial LPR scans are not used just by financial services and insurance companies. They are also shared with law enforcement. These scans are fully compliant with all state and federal regulations for data privacy and have already helped solve cases in New York. 

Without the ability to access commercial license plate scans, law enforcement would be significantly hamstrung to do its job with maximum effectiveness, efficiency and safety. That is bad, not just for law enforcement but for the residents of the state of New York.

It would be a tragedy if our state legislators decided to support an LPR ban rather than implement laws and policies that can protect privacy and civil liberties while preserving the ability of law enforcement investigators and private companies to realize the significant benefits of LPR technology.

Joseph L. Giacalone is the author of “Criminal Investigative Function: A Guide for New Investigators.”