Local City Approves New Police Cameras

Police Cameras
Screengrab of a video demo for the L6Q Motorola Deployable License Plate Reader Camera | Image by Motorola Solutions/YouTube

The Plano City Council recently approved the purchase of new license plate recognition (LPR) cameras for its police department.

Council members authorized the acquisition of 40 L5Q and 10 L6Q Motorola Deployable License Plate Reader Cameras, agreeing to a five-year subscription for the cameras with Motorola Solutions Inc. at an annual cost of $100,000 in local taxpayer money.

A memo from Ed Drain, chief of Plano police, explained that the Plano Police Department currently relies on permanently fixed or car-mounted camera systems. In comparison, the draw of these new models from Motorola is that they can be deployed “anywhere” and be relocated at will.

The battery-operated L5Q features a solar panel for sustained remote operation, while the newer L6Q model has solar, battery, and AC/DC power options.

L6Q models operate using radar detection, meaning they are best utilized on roads where individuals might travel at high speeds, whereas the L5Q models use motion detection and would be best used in parking lots.

Drain acknowledged in his memo that fixed cameras have been instrumental to law agencies in recovering stolen vehicles, identifying routes commonly used by criminals, and for other “investigative data.” However, though he describes the permanent cameras as “unquestionably valuable tools,” he identifies the new portable systems as more cost-effective.

“The primary advantages of this option versus the vehicle-mounted and fixed counterparts include lower cost, smaller footprint, ease of installation, autonomous operation, and rapid deployability,” the memo reads.

Drain also explained that Plano law enforcement has already tested and had success with the transportable cameras.

The memo noted that Motorola had given Plano PD one of the L5Q models, which the department placed near a storage facility where multiple thefts had occurred. Drain said this singular camera unit had aided in identifying suspects allegedly responsible for the theft of multiple flatbed trailers in that area.

“This success with the portable LPR camera was followed by many others, with dozens of property crime cases now having been cleared and multiple arrest warrants issued as a result of these deployments,” the memo read.

Despite the promise shown by these systems, some, including Murat Kantarcioglu, a professor of computer science at UT Dallas, have concerns about privacy.

“Imagine a scenario that [all of] Plano is covered with these cameras. Then by looking at the license plate readers and the data that stores, I could be able to figure out when this person left his or her home,” Kantarcioglu told The Dallas Morning News.

However, Plano police Lieutenant Glenn Cavin assured the DMN that data received from these cameras will only be utilized by authorized personnel and that the department has already engaged in “full transparency with the community,” complete with a posting of its online directive.

This directive has been effective since 2008 and dictates that any gathered data will only be used for “legitimate law enforcement purposes.”

Still, the City of Dallas’ recent struggle with an alleged ransomware attack makes evident the risk that sensitive data can fall into the wrong hands.

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