License Plate Scanners Make Big Splash in North Carolina

Raleigh police have a new weapon in their arsenal to track down criminals: a device mounted on a patrol car that automatically scans license plates, looking for cars that have been reported stolen. The system is known as Automated License Plate Recognition and is made up of four cameras atop the patrol car’s lights bar that are capable of scanning in every direction. The cameras then connect to a computer in the trunk of the car that is linked to the database found in the officer’s computer in the front seat.

The city purchased six of the nearly $19,000 devices and they’ve seen an impact, in just a few weeks they helped find at least four stolen plates and two stolen vehicles. It’s not surprising that they’re effective given that the devices are capable of scanning up to 3,000 license plates in an hour. Post #1 criminal image 6.26.jpgAlong with alerting officers about stolen plates, the devices can assist with other crimes that may involve a suspect vehicle, such as missing individuals, bank robberies, or any other crime where a license plate was reported.

Though the devices are new in Raleigh, they’ve been in existence in Charlotte for some time. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department uses the scanners even more aggressively and has a policy which states that the scanners can be used to confirm a criminal suspect’s alibi regarding his whereabouts at a particular time and date and that the scanners can be used for predictive purposes. This means that the scanners can be turned on in high-risk crime areas to focus on unusual traffic patterns. Something the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes is profiling.

There are questions though about the incredible amount of data the police will be able to collect. Though the ACLU doesn’t specifically object to the technology, its local spokesman says that it raises tremendous privacy issues. Mike Meno of the ACLU North Carolina says, “The thing that is most troublesome to us is that in most cases the police will retain the data, even if a person is not charged with a crime.” The retained information could be used to help tie someone to a later criminal investigation or lead to tracking of people who have done nothing wrong.

Charlotte’s police are supposed to purge all information retained by the devices 18 months from the date it was recorded. Raleigh won’t hold onto the information for nearly as long, only keeping it for six months. Even this is too long according to the ACLU, after all, if the information is not being used to further an investigation then why keep it around at all?

Raleigh’s policy goes a step further to protect the citizens from an invasion of privacy and says officers are not to use the devices unless there is “a legitimate law enforcement need” or “a specific criminal investigation.” Perhaps in the future the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police would consider implementing a similar policy in order to reduce worry over their use of the scanners.

If you or someone you know would like to speak to a criminal defense attorney about any criminal matter in Charlotte or the surrounding counties, please call the attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Call today for a free consultation at 1-704-370-2828.

New device helps Raleigh police find stolen vehicles,” by Thomasi McDonald, published at

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