The number of motorists pulled over by Connecticut State Police through the use of license plate scanners has skyrocketed in the past few years.
The high-tech cameras mounted on some cruisers can scan as many as 1,800 license plates a minute and instantly run them through databases.
Troopers stopped 383 drivers in 2013 from June to December, the first months the cameras were in use, according to data obtained by The Associated Press. Stops based on the scanners hit nearly 1,600 in 2014, then ballooned to nearly 6,800 last year. Troopers have stopped nearly 2,400 drivers so far this year after getting “hits” from the readers.
State police now have the cameras, officially known as license plate readers, or LPRs, mounted on 20 of the 400 cruisers assigned to patrol. The devices receive information about wanted people, missing people, stolen vehicles, unregistered vehicles and other violations from Department of Motor Vehicles and police databases, and they instantly alert troopers.
“Not only do LPRs allow troopers to monitor a higher volume of traffic for vehicles involved in incidents as serious as Amber Alerts, stolen cars and wanted persons, it allows them to do so in a safer and more efficient manner,” said Col. Alaric Fox, the state police commander.
Like many other departments, however, state police do not fully track the outcomes of the traffic stops initiated by license plate readers.
State police records show only 35 arrests in 2014, 43 arrests last year and 25 arrests so far this year based on the readers. Officials say the real arrest numbers are probably much higher because troopers apparently don’t always check boxes on reports indicating whether readers prompted traffic stops. There are no details on what the arrests were for, except for a few cases noted in police news releases.
On May 14, a trooper’s license plate reader identified a car stolen from Colorado being driven on Interstate 84 in Danbury. The trooper arrested the driver for motor vehicle theft and drug possession. In January, a trooper’s license plate reader detected a stolen car on Route 39 near the Danbury-New Fairfield line. Two men were arrested after leading the trooper on a chase and colliding with a parked car.
Police departments across the country are using the scanners, including many municipal departments in Connecticut. Civil liberities advocates say they have privacy concerns and are calling for government regulations, because the information could be used to track people’s movements, it could be sold to private companies, and data retention policies vary widely from department to department.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut says state police have a model policy with short data retention period – 90 days, with an exception for license plates linked to crimes.
“There’s a place for it, but there’s not a need to keep this data for an extended period,” said David McGuire, the state ACLU’s legislative and policy director.
McGuire said he believes most drivers in the state have had their license plates scanned by state and local police. After a 2012 public records request, he said he found his name four times in a database kept by 10 departments in the Hartford area. The database included more than 3 million license plate scans.
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