Two county board members oppose license plate reader
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By Randy Pierce
Two members of the Madison County Board voted against the purchase of a mobile license plate reader for a county sheriff’s department squad car after a lengthy discussion concerning the acquisition took place at a committee meeting held on Thursday, April 13.
At the meeting of the county board finance and government operations committee chaired by Chris Guy of Maryville, the license plate reader was one of the items included in purchasing resolutions presented for consideration.
The sheriff’s department has moved forward with the acquisition which was authorized as a result of a majority vote of both the county board public safety committee and the aforementioned finance and government operations committee. A vote of approval by the full county board was not necessary because the cost was under the $25,000 limit established for the purchase to be forwarded to that level.
One of those who voted in opposition to the purchase, Michael “Mick” Madison of Bethalto (the other being Dalton Gray of Troy), opened the discussion by commenting about the license plate reader, to be added as a piece of equipment on a patrol car driven by a sheriff’s deputy, “There’s a lot of good that can come out of that, I’ll say that right off the bat, where they are trying to find known criminals out there.”
After continuing that the county already has such devices in stationary locations like bridges going over the Mississippi River, Madison went on to reflect upon the Patriot Act, signed into law by former President George W. Bush and continued under subsequent administrations representing both major political parties, which implemented various security provisions originally intended to curtail terrorism threats in the United States.
“We know they’ve used that to spy on American citizens,” Madison added, “as they do on all their devices and e-mail and what not. We have full knowledge of this.”
“Technology,” he noted, “over the past four, five, six years has been used against citizens. It was used against citizens throughout COVID. I’m not saying this is the exact same technology as that, but I don’t like the way technology is heading in this country.”
Citing a quote from Benjamin Franklin about giving up essential liberty for safety and security, Madison said, “I believe this is something that, overall, we did without for well over 200 years and I think we could probably survive without it.”
Guy requested that Marcos Pulido, chief deputy for the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, provide an explanation concerning how this device being proposed for purchase would operate differently from those set up at static locations.
The mobile LPR, Pulido said, would function in a way that it would alert the driver of the squad car it was part of when, as a result of database information stored within it, the image of a stolen vehicle or one used in a robbery, for example, is captured by reading the plates on it.
In specifically addressing Madison’s concerns, Pulido said, “I have to be cautious how I say this in a public setting, but we are very aware of some intelligence that we do know criminals use to adapt to our investigative ways.”
He supplemented that by noting some lawbreakers become familiar with where the non-mobile LPRs are located so they make sure they avoid them in order to keep the whereabouts of the vehicles they are using from being tracked.
Referencing a prior discussion about this matter at another county board committee meeting, Pulido explained that he realizes Madison does not think the sheriff’s department would “be part of doing anything nefarious” with the mobile LPR.
The county law enforcement agency has policies in place, Pulido went on, that would prevent the use of the LPR in a way that would intrude upon anyone’s freedom or privacy including accountability processes that expressly prohibit such actions, Pulido added.
Guy offered that he feels this LPR on a squad car would not be used for minor infractions like locating anyone who has failed to replace their vehicle sticker but instead is to be utilized to track down the “real bad guys and girls.”
Pulido concurred, saying, “This is for criminal behavior,” while adding that the acquisition in partnership with the state’s attorney’s office is not being paid for with any taxpayer funds but instead comes from an asset forfeiture account set up for when cash connected to illegal drug transactions or tangible property of value is confiscated as a result of law enforcement action.
Gray inquired as to whether or not the LPR “stores people’s information long term” and Pulido responded that, for a period of time, the details gathered in conjunction with this enforcement tool are kept on file to be turned to for investigative purposes and research, something that could be “valuable” in any high crime situation or critically significant incidents involving breaking the law.
“Truth be told,” Pulido continued with his answer, “the people at the sheriff’s office are too busy to just sit and research for no reason.”
When Gray asked if the information gathered through use of the LPR is shared with any other entities, Pulido said only those involved in law enforcement.
Before the vote was taken, Madison underscored his objection by saying, “You get the wrong person in office, somebody could use it for the wrong reason, all this technology.”
Pulido said, “It would be used to catch bad guys, not monitor the innocent.”
While Madison and Gray voted no, the other committee members voting in support of the acquisition of the mobile LPR at a cost of $21,146.16, along with Guy, included Ryan Kneedler of Collinsville, Mike Babcock of Bethalto, Robert Pollard of East Alton, John Janek and Robert “Bob” Meyer, both of Granite City and Mike Turner of Godfrey.