Only 1 valley police force uses license plate readers

LAS VEGAS -- Imagine being instantly tracked by police as you drive to work, to the store, or to get coffee. For years, law enforcement officers in the Las Vegas valley have used license plate readers.

The systems can find stolen vehicles and missing people by scanning thousands of cars, according to law enforcement.

8 News NOW set out to find out what agencies are still using this system, where you are most likely to be scanned, and how long your plate data is kept.

A license plate reader is typically attached to a patrol car. It instantly scans your plate and can tell police if you're suspected in a crime. Some people say it is a huge violation of privacy while others say it's necessary to keep everyone safe.

In Jan. 2006 at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, License Plate Readers or LPR's, were the latest technology.

"The amount of data it can process is hundreds of times greater than what you can manually do as an officer behind the wheel. So if I'm driving down the street and I have this system in my car, in an eight-hour shift, I literally could have run thousands of cars," said Metro Capt. Randy Montandon.

Map: License Plate Readers in the Las Vegas valley

But eight years later, Metro is no longer using the technology and the one LPR it does have is no longer operational. In fact, many law enforcement agencies have stopped using it.

The Boulder City Police Department used to have its own License Plate Reader but got rid of it two years ago. The chief says it was too expensive and problematic, so he sold it.

Nevada Highway patrol and the Drug Enforcement Agency had four LPR's, but phased them out.

The only police department still using LPR's Henderson.

"It hasn't given us any problems at all," said  Capt. Marc Cassell, Henderson Police Department.

He says his officers are currently using nine LPR's attached to patrol cars which cover three command areas. The LPR's are reading as many as 50,000 license plates every month.

"The officer can be going about their normal daily business, whether it's a traffic stop, routine patrol, or maybe on a regular call for service, and if one of those license plates that we're trying to locate comes in the vicinity of the vehicle, the system will automatically read it and alert the officer that there's a hit," Capt. Cassell said.

Tod Story, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, says the whole purpose of the LPR's is to track people and he believes it's a huge violation of drivers' privacy.

"These License Plate Readers assume everyone is guilty, which is just the opposite of due process," he said.

Story says there needs to be a state or federal guideline on how long police departments can keep license plate data especially for people with no reason to be flagged.

"What business do they have then in tracking our movements and seeing where we're going?"

Henderson keeps license plate data for five years.

If other jurisdictions have said the systems are too expensive and problematic, why is Henderson still using it?

"We find them to be valuable. We've had successes with these systems. To be quite frank, there's really no price we can put on that child that we find, or that homicide suspect that we're able to apprehend because that technology gave us a hint or a clue," Capt. Cassell said.

Henderson police say, with the help of LPR's, they've located violent offenders, found stolen property and missing people. If a person has no reason to be flagged, police say they shouldn't be worried.

Even so, the data remains in the Henderson system for five years, whether you have a criminal history or not.


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