NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — License plate recognition (LPR) cameras and signs from the six-month pilot program have been taken down across Nashville, according to the Nashville Department of Transportation (NDOT).
The removal of the cameras comes more than 90 days after the end of the program and following councilmember Emily Benedict’s proposal to get rid of them in early October.
“In the interest of transparency with the public, I think it’s important that current cameras and signs are only posted where [the Metro Nashville Police Department] has approved them, and when we are under an active agreement with a vendor,” Benedict said in a statement to News 2 at the time.
Benedict also explained Metro used three different vendors for the pilot program and only one will get the contract, and it is unclear where the future cameras will be placed.
However, despite Metro Council having approved the full implementation of the program in August, Middle Tennessee State University political science professor Sekou Franklin doesn’t want to see them go back up.
“It could lead to racial profile policing and not just targeting African Americans, but it also will lead to concerns about tracking undocumented residents,” Franklin said. “A lot of the research shows that those algorithms are racially biased, what some people refer to as, ‘Jim code,’ like we’re coding things in a way that’s racially biased.”
The use of LPRs has been a contentious debate in Nashville for years.
Some councilmembers agree with Franklin, while others see MNPD’s position that they are a common crime fighting tool to help law enforcement find wanted cars.
“The last thing we want to do is get in a high-speed pursuit, and that’s typically what happens when an officer gets behind the car, runs the tag, realizes it’s stolen, and attempts to stop it. It’s almost always going to run,” said MNPD Deputy Chief Chris Gilder at an August council meeting.
Metro Public Health and Safety Chair Erin Evans said once there is a vendor and contract, there will likely be a fiery debate.
“Everyone who ran for office was asked questions about license plate readers, but at the end we don’t know how they think about them until we actually get to a point where we’re gonna vote,” Evans said.
Evans is glad NDOT removed the LPRs without the council needing to take action.
“I think we would have probably gotten a little bit of a preview, I guess, about people’s perceptions about LPRs, but really we’d be talking about something we still don’t have all the details on yet,” she explained.
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Franklin urges councilmembers to not just focus on where these cameras will be placed so they are equitable, but also what the vendors will be doing with the data gathered.
“They’ve pretty much got a goldmine because they’re going to have access to an amount of data that they can then resell in the marketplace to various companies and so forth. So I think it’s a big huge problem for Nashville residents,” he said.