Earlier last week, the Marco Island Police Department went live with the recently installed Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR). Marco is unique in its geography, in that the only way on and off the island by vehicle is over one of two bridges. This is the perfect type of venue for law enforcement to become aware of those entering the island for nefarious reasons.
Advancements in technology have certain inherent advantages and certain inherent risks. However, advantages almost always outweigh the risks, so long as safeguards are properly established. Such is the case with the recently approved purchase of the license plate readers installed on both the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge on S.R. 951 (Collier Boulevard) and the Stan Gober Memorial Bridge on S.R. 92 (San Marco Road) near Goodland.
The use of the computerized scanning of license plates is not something new, having been utilized throughout law enforcement agencies for over four decades now, first in Great Britain in 1976, and later, making its way to the United States.
For years Marco Island has utilized mobile ALPR devices on at least two patrol cars. The readers on those vehicles were used during normal patrol duties in and around schools and local parks, in addition to patrolling parking lots and neighborhoods.
One of the drawbacks of the mobile-mounted units was that they could not be deployed every day due to the cycling of duty cars, scheduled maintenance and other reasons the vehicles would not be in service on the island.
Despite concerns regarding privacy, the ALPR technology is not meant to collect information about the activities of citizens. It is a tool utilized to protect everyday residents and those innocent and vulnerable within our society from harm. The database created by the ALPRs is exempt from “public records requests,” therefore maintaining privacy of the information.
Officers routinely run motor vehicle registrations as part of their normal patrol duties, and despite claims of invasion of privacy, courts have consistently ruled it is not.
Nationwide, 70% of criminal activity involves a vehicle, and the identification of vehicles who may have had involvement in similar activities off the island could be very helpful in improving the solving of crimes committed here on the island.
The establishment of a database of registered plates which have been or are suspected of being involved in crimes would automatically be scanned and compared to those plates scanned by the stationary readers. Should a “hit” on a plate number be recognized, an alert would come through the system, making law enforcement aware of the presence of that plate number in that jurisdiction.
Providing more information to officers about a potential risk can also serve to help protect officers before they approach a vehicle that may have been involved in a crime.
Statistics show that approximately 27% of drivers were estimated to be uninsured in the State of Florida in 2019, according to the Insurance Research Council. Carrying insurance is a prerequisite to holding a valid registration for a vehicle in the state. Failure to have insurance and provide same to the State of Florida would also register as a “hit” in the system and, in many cases, could be attributed to a driver having a suspended license.