(TNS) – Fort Worth police are getting 600 automatic license plate readers as part of a 12-year, $74 million equipment package from technology company Axon.
Readers will be used to policing felonies at or above the level of a Class B misdemeanor, Chief Constable Neil Noakes told the council on Tuesday. These crimes can be kidnappings, robberies or assaults.
However, District 8 council member Chris Nettles raised concerns about some of the other crimes considered Class B misdemeanors that are not necessarily violent offenses. He specifically mentioned the theft of items worth between $100 and $750.
“When you’re talking $100, you might have a family in my neighborhood who can’t afford formula or diapers and they go to Walmart and steal it,” Nettles said.
He wanted to make sure officers had the discretion to know that some of the people they arrest are simply going through hard times, and not necessarily a violent threat to the community.
It’s unclear how this new generation of readers will be used, but license plate readers from public safety technology company Flock Safety have been used in the Las Vegas Trail neighborhood as part of an overall plan to fighting violent crime.
The region saw a 22% drop in violent crime between 2019 and 2021, which a department spokesperson attributed to the combination of new technologies and community outreach in an October 2021 email.
Noakes made sure to point out that the new license plate readers will not be used for immigration enforcement.
“We’re not using it to become an arm of the federal government to enforce immigration policies. It’s critical to understand,” he said.
The Office of the Police Surveillance Comptroller recommended the department create rules for the use of its license plate cameras and enforceable consequences for officers who violate them.
Noakes said during an April 19 business session that he would have a policy for license plate cameras in time for Tuesday’s vote. However, the ministry did not respond to a request for more information about this policy.
Police departments across the country have come under scrutiny to determine how their license plate camera data is used by federal immigration services.
About 9,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers had access to a database of six billion license plates compiled by security technology firm Vigilant Solutions, according to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in March 2019.
A version of the Fort Worth policy was shared with city council members Monday afternoon, council member Elizabeth Beck said. This addressed his concerns about the potential for license plate camera data to be used for immigration enforcement.
Beck noted that the technology gives the department the ability to report license plates for certain types of crimes only, and that it’s city policy not to report immigration violations.
“If we don’t report it, we can’t track it and there’s nothing to share with other agencies,” Beck said.
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