City Council approves donation of two license plate recognition units

Monday, May 3, 2010 | 3:32 p.m. CDT; updated 10:41 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 5, 2010

COLUMBIA — The Boone County Sheriff’s Department has decided to donate two of its four automatic license plate recognition units to the Columbia Police Department.

The sheriff's department bought the devices with funding from a Community Oriented Policing Services technology grant. The $200,000 grant comes from the Central Missouri Regional Information Justice System project.

“We think it is fair to split this with the city police because they are part of the same program and in a similar location as us,” said Major Tom Reddin of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department.

Reddin said that at the earliest, the sheriff’s department's two units will be operational in patrol cars within a month.

“Right off the bat, I expect more arrests of wanted subjects and finding more stolen vehicles or stolen license plates,” he said.

In a report to the City Council, the department said the city won't incur any costs in accepting the two units and for the first year of operation. After the first year, the department calculated that the cost of operating an individual unit will cost $1,462 — including software updates, parts and labor, and training. Reddin said the sheriff's department will cover these costs in its budget.

According to previous Missourian reports, some council members have previously raised concerns about surveillance devices infringing upon civil liberties. Council members were alarmed with the quantity and storage of the data these units can hold on drivers not involved in any wrongdoings.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe voiced those same concerns Monday night.

Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton said that if there is no reason to keep information on a certain license plate, the data will be erased after 30 days.

Nauser and Hoppe expressed concerns about storing the data for that length of time. Hoppe proposed an amendment that would have stopped data storage, but the amendment failed.

"It's a valuable tool and I don't want people to think I'm anti-police," Nauser said, "But there's just some place where you have to draw the line."

Council accepted the donation by a 4-2 vote. Nauser and Hoppe dissented; First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz was absent.

"I view this as a law enforcement tool and Boone County is basically giving us a gift. I think either way that there will be four license plate recognition scanners in Boone County," Mayor Bob McDavid said. "The question is whether two of them will be used by Columbia Police Department."

 Missourian reporter Kerri Reynolds contributed to this report.

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