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Understanding Citizen Support for License Plate Readers

NCJ Number
Date Published
Linda Merola, Cynthia Lum
This article reports on the findings and implications of the first random-sample community survey of 457 residents of a large, populous, and diverse county, who expressed their opinions about the police use of license plate recognition technology (LPR) for a wide variety of purposes.
LPR systems scan the alphanumeric digits on license plates of moving or stationary vehicles. The system then compares these scanned plates against existing databases of license plates that are “of interest” to law enforcement. License plates that might be of interest could include those associated with recently stolen vehicles, those flagged for police investigation, or those connected with registered owners who are sought by the police or have open warrants. Overall, the survey found significant support for many LPR uses; support ranged from 48.1 to 87.6 percent of the community, depending on the specific use of LPR. Among LPR uses mentioned in the survey questions were checking for stolen vehicles and plates, monitoring specific locations to prevent terrorism, managing sex offenders, and locating wanted individuals. The suggested LPR use that received the lowest support from respondents was checking vehicles for unpaid parking and motor vehicle violations. LPR uses not directly related to vehicle enforcement and those involving prolonged data storage (6 months or more) received lower support. LPR uses that might adversely impact “average” members of the community tended to receive less support. Generally, a respondent’s level of trust in police tactics and motives determined her/his level of support for police LPR uses. Respondent’s level of trust in police varied by the race of the respondent, with Black respondents tending to have less trust in police than White respondents. Implications and recommendations from these findings are offered to police agencies in their use of LPR. 1 figure and 6 references
Date Created: October 7, 2018