NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Following a six-month pilot program, Metro council members will vote on whether to make the controversial license plate reader (LPR) program permanent during Tuesday’s meeting.
The technology scans each license plate that passes and alerts officers of tags that are linked to crimes and entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
Metro police reported the 24 fixed and 17 mobile LPRs helped officers find and arrest more than 100 violent criminals and recover dozens of stolen cars within the past six months.
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District 4 Metro Councilman Robert Swope told News 2 he would be surprised if council didn’t vote to make LPRs permanent during Tuesday evening’s council meeting, considering the pilot program’s success.
“You’re not only keeping multiple, habitual felons off the streets at a much higher level, but you’re keeping them from committing crimes because we’re getting to them faster, because the cameras are doing their job,” Swope said.
Metro Council voted to approve the LPR pilot program this past January, but the decision was faced with opposition. Many groups worried LPRs would be used to surveil citizens, citing privacy concerns. Swope argued against that claim.
“I’m not talking about putting license plate readers in your driveway,” Swope said. “That’s your private property, but the second you get out on 65 or Old Hickory Boulevard or Trinity Lane, that’s a public right of way, so how entitled are you for complete, personal rights when you’re in a public right of way with a public license tag?”
The Community Oversight Board (COB) closely monitored LPR data throughout the pilot program. The group relapsed a heat map which executive director, Jill Fitcheard said shows LPRs disproportionately impacted non-white, lower-income communities due to their inequitable placement throughout the city.
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According to the COB’s heat map, Quadrant A, the North Nashville, East Nashville, and Madison areas, generated nearly half the total number of hits during the first three months of the pilot program.
“Why are we over-policing certain areas of color?” Fitcheard asked. “That’s very concerning to me that people in certain areas have to be subjected to police surveillance more so than people in other areas of our city, the more affluent areas.”
Metro police vehemently denied the claim that LPRs target minorities, emphasizing how the technology only scans license plates and cannot determine who is driving the car.
Some councilmembers previously told News 2 they would consider moving the LPRs to make the placement more equitable if the resolution passed; Swope said the LPR placement is based on crime data.
“If you put up all the LPRs in my district, in Brentwood and Nipper’s Corners, you’re probably not going to get a whole lot of hits. If you put them up in North Nashville, you’re probably going to get a lot of hits,” Swope said. “I’m not going to even comment as to why there is more crime in North Nashville than there is in Brentwood. That’s up for you to decide, but why would you not go to where the crime is to try to ease it and stop it?”
The resolution to make LPRs permanent is expected to pass. The COB and other opponents of LPRs want to see council enact measures to ensure police are not abusing the information LPRs generate, and require audits of the system to hold officers accountable.
Metro police said officers strictly follow all LPR laws and have been transparent in sharing data from the pilot program.