Meet the Hollywood Police Department's new license plate scanner. It already may have met you.
The multi-camera and scanner system, mounted on the trunk, hood, or roof of a cruiser, takes pictures as the officer drives through the city looking for stolen vehicles and criminals. The camera is capable of snooping through as many as 10,000 license plates a shift, leaving officials a bit giddy about its effectiveness.
"These things are awesome," said Hollywood Police Lt. Scott Pardon, whose traffic unit, in just a few weeks, recovered one stolen car, one stolen tag and made two arrests. Hollywood is not the only place where police cars have eyes.
Similar systems have been tested or used by at least a half-dozen law enforcement agencies in South Florida, including the sheriff's departments in Broward and Palm Beach counties. ...
... Police everywhere say it's an effective crime-fighting tool while allowing officers to multi-task.
But privacy-rights groups take issue with authorities taking and storing information on noncriminals, something they say is too Big Brother-like.
"If I have never gotten a ticket or have never done anything wrong, I should have the right to know if the picture of my car is in the database, and what are they doing with it," said Lillie Coney, with the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Organizations like Coney's and the American Civil Liberties Union worry that many law enforcement agencies are failing to establish policies governing how police can use the information that's collected.
"It's not that they are looking at license plates and taking pictures of cars belonging to innocent people," said Barry Butin, co-counsel of the ACLU's Broward chapter. "We are more concerned with what they do with the information later."