License plate scanners have been used in the area for years. The Maryland State Police has been using the technology since 2004 and with each year their use seems to expand. These scanners are used to identify stolen vehicles, expired registration, and revoked registrations as well. But they also scan plates belonging to law abiding citizens, something the ACLU takes issue with.
These scanners are usually mounted on the back of a patrol car or stationary, on the side of the road. The police car then has a monitor within the vehicle where the scans are displayed and the system alerts them to any law violations found. In one eight hour shift, a scanner can read 5,000 license plates, according to the Baltimore Sun.
If the system recognizes a car that’s been reported stolen or tags that are expired, it sounds an alert, telling the officer what he violation is and showing the scanned photo. If there’s no violation, the photo is stored for up to a year.
Local law enforcement credits the license plate readers with helping to bring auto theft down in the area. Over the past three years, car theft has dropped almost 40% in the state of Maryland. Though it’s unclear how much of this drop can be attributed to the scans, police say that car theft suspects often mention the cameras when they are being interrogated after an arrest.
Because of the suspected relationship between the scanners and the drop in car thefts, the program has received an additional $2 million from the state, doubling its funding.
Unfortunately, the technology isn’t infallible. The cameras cannot scan a vehicle moving at high rates of speed and often has difficulty scanning the small and sometimes obstructed plates on motorcycles. This has been the case with the tragic accident that killed Maryland State Trooper Shaft S. Hunter, who was killed when he hit a tractor trailer while in pursuit of a racing motorcycle.
The ACLU takes issue with the footage that is saved from the scanners. After all, if no law is broken, what is the purpose of storing the photos? Innocent drivers are, in a sense, being subjected to a search without their knowledge. “Police are not supposed to be keeping files on people who are not breaking the law,” says a spokesperson for the ACLU.
The prevalence of these cameras means more and more cases of auto theft and even driving on a suspended registration are using the footage from these devices as evidence. Even when such footage is not present, the evidence in cases like these can seem difficult to overcome.
If you’re facing auto theft charges or even charges of a traffic offense, contact our offices today to discuss your options.