Police on Thursday discovered the Virginia-based database that hosts much of the nation’s license plate recognition systems is available to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, as reported earlier in the week by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Police officials in Westport and Fairfield said they do not use the system to spy on residents, or even record people’s race or ethnicity, as alleged by the ACLU report. They continue to keep using the system.
But Wethersfield Police Chief James Cetran said after learning there was an option to share the information with ICE, he withdrew his town with a click of a computer mouse.
“I have no problem sharing our data with other police departments,” Cetran said in a phone interview. “We can uncheck those that we don’t want to share with.” Cetran noticed ICE was listed as receiving his town’s data, confirming the ACLU report. “Although I know it’s perfectly legal, for political expediency, we are no longer sharing with them. It was my discretion.”
Cetran, president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said the group is allowing local police departments to decide for themselves whether to remove ICE’s access to their data.
Eight law enforcement entities were listed by the ACLU as having relationships with ICE, including Fairfield, Westport, Stratford, Norwalk, Trumbull and Southern Connecticut State University.
Westport officials said Thursday the firm Vigilant Solutions Inc. makes the town’s license plate reader (LPR) data available to 500 other law enforcement agencies.
“The LPR system in no way provides the officer information as to the immigration status, race, gender, sex, name of the person operating the vehicle, or the owner information of the vehicle, nor does it record any of this information,” said Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas in a statement. “Vigilant Solutions, the vendor from whom we purchased the system and with whom we have a contract, manages and stores the minimal data collected.”
He said the data has a proven record in helping fight crime, and the town is confident that federal compliance standards are being met.
“We always attempt to balance the safety of officers and citizens with privacy. Information sharing and communication amongst law enforcement agencies is critical to that safety,” Koskinas said.
Fairfield Capt. Robert Kalamaras agreed.
“The Fairfield Police Department currently owns and operates License Plate Reader (LPR) technology which data is managed and stored by Vigilant Solutions,” he said in a statement. “These devices have served hundreds of police agencies across the United States, including Fairfield, to ensure the safety and security of our citizens. While there has been some scrutiny as to the privacy rights of individuals, the LPRs do not provide the officer with race, gender, ethnicity, or immigration status from the information provided by the registration plate.”Read Full Article
He stressed the crime-fight ability of the system
“The Fairfield Police Department takes privacy rights very serious and seeks to find a balance between ensuring people’s constitutional rights, and the use of the LPR data to solve crimes and maintain the security of our community,” Kalamaras said.
In Trumbull, Police Chief Michael Lombardi said Thursday the LPR technology has been responsible for investigating a robbery and assault in a local park; and a bank robbery.
“The LPR has been a valuable tool, not only for identifying the everyday violations that are a danger to the motorists on the streets of Trumbull, but for those very serious crimes where we need every means possible to assist in keeping our neighborhoods safe,” Lombardi said, adding the Hearst Connecticut Media report of the ACLU findings “provides inaccurate and misleading statements.”
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