Freeport looks to expand plate-scanning system

The system has led to hundreds of cars being impounded and more than 2,000 summonses handed out.

The system has led to hundreds of cars being impounded and more than 2,000 summonses handed out. (2/1/16)

FREEPORT - Officials in Freeport are looking to expand the license plate-reading system that has netted more than two dozen arrests and thousands of summonses in the village.

Freeport officials say the village's license plate readers, or LPRs, have scanned about 15 million plates since Nov. 2. The scanners have helped impound hundreds of cars, and led to more than 2,000 summonses being handed out.

The LPRs also led to 25 arrests, including one in a murder case. As News 12 has reported, Tremain Williams, of Freeport, was arrested last month in connection with a murder in Norfolk, Virginia. The stolen car he was allegedly driving was identified after going past a license plate scanner, and police say Williams had a loaded rifle in the trunk of the car.

The village's scanning equipment can cross-reference plate numbers with county, state and federal law enforcement databases, along with DMV records. Once a plate is read, it can tip off police in real time.

Village officials have dubbed the system "Operation Safe Streets," and say it's so successful that it should be expanded, but those efforts are not without controversy. Officials say the plate-readers can check thousands of license plates per minute, and the Long Island director of the New York Civil Liberties Union says that's way too many.

"The comings and goings of an individual, particularly over the course of a long period of time, can reap a significant amount of personal information," says Jason Starr, of the NYCLU. "Like what doctors' offices you might visit, what religious ceremonies you might be affiliated with, what political affiliations."

Some Freeport residents agree that the plate-readers could be over-reaching. But Freeport officials say the plates are on public streets, and there's no expectation of privacy. They also say there are safeguards to prevent data breaches, and plate numbers are deleted after 180 days.

The mayor of Freeport says the push to expand the $750,000 program may be too expensive for the village to operate without federal dollars. The village is currently paying police personnel around the clock to monitor the cameras, but officials say it's worth it because of the system's value as a crime-fighting tool. The village wants to hire an additional six to eight officers to monitor the system.

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