City of Kyle to collect on warrants with controversial method

The City of Kyle will soon be using license plate surveillance technology to find people with outstanding warrants. Officers will give the suspect a chance to pay off the warrant on the spot if they agree to a 25 percent fee.

The City of Kyle will soon be using license plate surveillance technology to find people with outstanding warrants.

Officers will give the suspect a chance to pay off the warrant on the spot if they agree to a 25 percent fee.

Earlier this month the City of Kyle signed a contract with Vigilant Solutions, a company which offers a database of license plates read by surveillance technology on police cars. It also provides officers with credit card readers so they can collect on outstanding warrants.

In 2015, Texas lawmakers passed a bill allowing police officers to install credit and debit card readers in their vehicles. The point was to allow officers to collect court fines on the spot instead of taking every person with a fine-related warrant to jail.

"That's a win-win for the court in collecting revenue, for the officer not being off the street and for the individual that's stopped. They don't have to miss work, go to jail, etc., etc.," said law enforcement attorney Travis Williamson

"I think the alternative payment law has a good intent. There's something good about being able to just pay a fine, rather than going to jail. So at its core, I think it's a good law," Legal Director for the Texas Civil Rights Project Wayne Krause Yang said. 

Vigilant Solutions developed the technology to provide card and license plate readers to officers for a piece of the profits. To fund the service, each person charged by an officer must agree to a 25 percent fee that goes to the company.

"This law says that the debt collection is supposed to be direct and reasonable in its fees. 25 percent of its fees going to this corporation are not reasonable and it's not direct... Essentially, I don't think that the law says that a headhunting corporation for warrants is direct or reasonable. I think they're violating the law," Krause Yang said. 

The City of Kyle said the 25 percent fee is reasonable because it keeps people with a warrant from paying for jail costs or having their car impounded. City staff said if the person stopped does not want to pay the fee, the officer can also agree to escort them to court to pay off their warrant. The other option is jail.

"The police also now have an incentive to look for debt as a way to pay for their program and 25 percent of this goes to a private corporation, Vigilant, who is then profiting off poor people's debts," said Krause Yang. 

Williamson said putting officers in the position to find outstanding warrants or risk losing Vigilant's services could be a conflict of interest.

"We invest way too much money in training our police officers to detect crime, make arrests, prevent crime where possible, they don't need to be in the bill collecting business," said Williamson.

Vigilant Solutions is not a flaw-proof system. In December, the company  posted an online apology for issuing warrant notices to the wrong recipients.

Regardless, the City of Kyle said they expect to start using the technology in about a month.

Kyle city leaders said the license plate data collected by Vigilant Solutions will not be sold or used by a third party. The information will be kept in a database and shared only by other law enforcement agencies that sign on with Vigilant Solutions.

Unpaid warrants in Kyle, some of them more than seven years old, total about $4.8 million.

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