Austin license plate reader program in its final stages

The Austin Police Department says its license plate reader policy is now in its final stages.

At the Thursday, May 11 public meeting, there was an opportunity for the community to review the resolution, offer input and ask questions.

"Knowing that license plate readers are force multiplier it is a critical time to employ to try to solve the crimes that impacting our community," says Austin Police Department assistant chief Jeff Greenwalt.

Assistant police chief Jeff Greenwalt says the department has been hosting these input sessions in an effort to be transparent with the community.

The plans call for about 40 cameras to be spread out around the city. The cameras will capture pictures of license plates and then alert officers if the plates match a crime.

"It could be because that vehicle was stolen, and we want to return it to the rightful owner," says Greenwalt.

Under the resolution, officers will get an alert of a Class A misdemeanor or higher to justify a traffic stop.

"It could be because it's a subject vehicle and an amber alert or a missing endangered person, or it could be involved in some sort of other criminal investigation, like a murder or a robbery," says Greenwalt.

Community members raised their concerns about the stored data from these license plate readers.

"The data is stored in the database. It's gone in 30 days, unless it's involved in criminal investigation," says Greenwalt. 

One person asked assistant chief Greenwalt, will the license plate reader information be shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement or, I.C.E.

"I think that that would be concerning just because we need to build trust within our city and our community. I don't think that the intent of the system is for immigration enforcement," says Austin resident Taylor Cook.

"We only share the data with other law enforcement agencies. If it's a criminal investigation, the majority of what ICE does is not criminal in nature. So, we were not shared in those instances," says Greenwalt.

During the May 18 meeting, the council is expected to "authorize negotiation and execution of a contract for license plate reader camera systems and services" with a vendor.