Nashvillians debate pros and cons of license plate readers ahead of next Metro Council vote

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — It’s a debate spanning almost five years in Metro Nashville — should license plate readers be allowed on public right of ways, or are they an invasion of privacy?

Over the last year, there have been several proposed bills to implement LPRs in Music City, but they’ve all been met with criticism.

Right now, there are two LPR bills being considered by Metro City Council. Essentially, one would allow LPRs to be installed on public roadways, while the other would only allow law enforcement to operate the machines from their patrol cars.

On Tuesday night, Nashville residents voiced their opinions on the matter at a town hall.

“I would welcome license plate readers into my neighborhood,” one Nashville man said. “It’s exactly the type of tool that we believe could build confidence in law enforcement and really help the neighborhood be much safer.”

The machines have seen success in surrounding cities, like Belle Meade and Mt. Juliet, helping stop stolen vehicles and getaway cars.

Metro Councilwoman, Joy Styles, is a co-sponsor of one LPR bill currently being considered by the council. She drafted her own legislation after a huge uptick in street racing during the pandemic.

She says, essentially, the devices help police catch criminals faster.

“With license plate readers, we can fight amber alerts, silver alerts, violent crime,” Councilwoman Styles said.

Other leaders, like a Nashville public defender that spoke at the town hall, say the devices are simply too invasive.

“They could be used and deployed in this way to reflect institutional or systemic policing bias against certain groups. Black and brown communities have long been subject to over-policing and over-surveillance,” the public defender said.

On the flip side, some Nashville residents argue that a license plate itself can’t be biased and is already publicly displayed on your car.

“I look at it as basically a race and gender-neutral device,” another Nashville man said at the open forum.

For others, it’s more about how the data will be used, and they say the larger problem is crime itself.

“License plate readers do not actually stop crime from happening. It is simply the witnessing of the crime happening. If we want to reduce crime we need to figure out how to get to the core element, the core cause of call these crimes happening,” a Nashville resident said.

Both LPR bills are up for second reading at next week’s Metro City Council meeting.

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