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Joplin police says new technology helps them prevent crime - KOAM TV 7

Joplin police says new technology helps them prevent crime; ACLU says it's spying

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The Joplin Police Department defends new technology that can track your movements on the road.  The JPD is one of many departments across the country that use cameras to take pictures of license plates.  The technology is drawing criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union as an invasion of privacy, saying police departments across the country that use this type of technology are also spying on people.

The JPD has been using these cameras for about a year.  The $17,000 price tag for the mobile setup was covered by grant money.

Police say it's turning work that used to be done manually into something that now only takes seconds.

One of the Joplin patrol cars is outfitted with three cameras that constantly take pictures of license plates on nearby vehicles.  Those license plate numbers are then instantly put into a computer system that recognizes the numbers and letters and tries to instantly pair the license plate information with state and national databases.

"Whether that vehicle is stolen, whether the plates are stolen, whether that person is wanted," says Lt. Matt Stewart of the Joplin Police Department.

The computer makes a dinging sound to let the officer know the registered driver has no records.  A different sound tells the officer to be on alert.

For example, in a ride-along with the officer on Thursday the alert indicated the owner of the a vehicle near us was a registered sex offender.

"We would want to know what they are doing, where they are in a particular neighborhood," says Officer Jason Stump.

Every scanned license plate, whether it's been put on alert or not, is kept in JPD's computers for 14 days.  After that the information is kept indefinitely at a third party database.

Police say you never know what information will be needed in the future.

"It also helps if we're looking for somebody and we know what vehicle they drive, but we don't know where they live," says Lt. Stewart.  "Then we can look for that particular plate number and give us a location for where they vehicle has been seen."

But the American Civil Liberties Union says the government should not be logging indefinitely the 99% of people who are innocent.  The ACLU worries the technology will quickly morph into a powerful tracking tool.  The ACLU is being vocal against all police departments across the country using these cameras.

Nonetheless, police say data will be securely stored and will only be available to law enforcement.

In addition to the Joplin Police Department, the Jasper County Sheriff's Office also uses the technology.

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