A license plate reader in the state of Idaho spotted the car of a murder suspect fleeing from the scene of the stabbing death of his Rochester girlfriend.
A month later, Connecticut troopers located a suspect in the stabbing death of a New York City teenager with the use of an LPR.
License plate readers use high-speed cameras to take photos of license plates in public places and then log a time and a location. The photos are saved in a searchable database, which can be accessed when police are investigating a crime.
If a witness can provide a partial license plate or a suspect’s vehicle is known, officers can check their database to find a license plate that matches the vehicle description or the location of a specific vehicle. This leads to law enforcement agents’ ability to solve crimes from larcenies to child abductions to murders.
These databases do not contain the names of the vehicle owners or any other personal information. They simply take a picture of a license plate. A license plate can only be linked to a person by accessing a Department of Motor Vehicle database, which is only allowed under specific permissible purposes by officers trained and permitted to use them.
Thousands and thousands of crimes have been solved with the use of this technology.
At the Jefferson County Board of Legislators meeting Tuesday, a legislator’s voice was heard about how this technology is an invasion of privacy and therefore should be defunded. He was successful; 10 legislators, without research, questions or input from law enforcement voted to eliminate the Department of Homeland Security’s federal grant of $113,832.50.
Jefferson County residents have been the benefactors of funds like this since 2003.
The Stonegarden Grant supports increased coordination and collaboration among federal, state, local, tribal and territorial law enforcement agencies; $90 million are available this year, nationally. We share the funds we are awarded with the Clayton and Alexandria Bay police departments.
The LPR component was not the only use of the grant. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has used these funds for navigational security and enforcement on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, ATV and snowmobile trail safety, and to supplement patrols on all of our highways and all of our backroads countywide.
Our community is smart. We all enjoy the peace and security that a well-trained, dedicated, professional and equipped Sheriff’s Office provides. If there was ever a time that we needed the assistance of the federal government to help with our law enforcement efforts, it is now.
If you don’t believe your legislators are representing you, call them. It is very discouraging to see personal agendas prevail over the good of the community.
Colleen M. O’Neill
The writer has served as Jefferson County sheriff since 2015.