The Kansas City Police Department agreed this week to purchase seven additional license plate readers.
But the readers are controversial. The American Civil Liberties Union is considering asking the Kansas and Missouri legislatures to restrict how long police departments can store personal information read by these plate readers.
Some say the readers are an invasion of privacy in that police can track information about law-abiding citizens who have committed no crimes or traffic violations.
But police say it's a valuable tool when it comes to fighting crime. The readers helped locate a homicide suspect in the Kansas City area.
Hundreds of license plates can be scanned each day during routine patrols.
The ACLU is asking the Kansas City and Wichita police departments for information on their tracking and recording the movements of residents through their automatic license plate reader programs. The cameras are mounted on patrol cars or stationary objects, such as telephone poles or bridges. The camera snaps a picture of each vehicle that comes into view.
Other groups are seeking similar information from federal agencies.
In addition to the Kansas City Police Department, area law enforcement agencies using the readers including Overland Park and Lenexa police departments and the Kansas Highway Patrol. Others are also considering adding them.
Shawnee Police Officer Craig Hermann said the readers provide "an extra set of eyes to that officer to catch those cars that are parked or going in the opposite direction."
The date, time and location are captured instantly. The license plate information is checked to see if the vehicle's owner is wanted for any reason. Officers are notified immediately whether the vehicle is listed as stolen, the license plate hasn't been renewed or if there is another problem.
"It can collect all kinds of data that has nothing to do with criminal violations," said Doug Bonney, ACLU legal director. "It creates a huge database about where we are, where we've been and what we've been doing that the government frankly for the most part has no business collecting."
Hermann said Shawnee won't keep the gathered information long term. He said data that is not part of a criminal investigation is deleted after 180 days. Access to the data is restricted.
"If we can say find a missing child, if we can clear up a warrant issue that someone has, all are good things for the community and we really feel like it is an advantage for us," Hermann said.
Shawnee police used grant money to buy a single reader for about $21,000. Since June, Shawnee police have used the reader to make three arrests for outstanding warrants, locate four stolen license plates and two stolen vehicles.
KCTV5 first told you about the license plate scanner controversy this summer. Click here to read previous coverage.
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