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Automated license plate readers not coming to Mason City yet

by Matt Marquardt –

MASON CITY – A relatively new crime fighting tool won’t be used in Mason City- yet.

Automated license plate readers, typically affixed to a patrol car, allow patrol officers to scan every license plate they pass as a computer program then determines which vehicles are stolen or have owners wanted for arrest, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported recently.

“Enhance your officers’ safety and productivity while maximizing your department’s revenue,” Motorola touts on its website.  “Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) delivers the ability to read vehicle license plates and check them against an installed database for rapid identity verification. The license plate recognition system has been used to locate stolen or wanted vehicles and identify parking-ticket scofflaws.”

According to the Gazette, two men applying to be Cedar Rapids’ next chief of police called the license reader tool is a “force multiplier,” and is a “fantastic” piece of equipment.

Mason City Police Chief Michael Lashbrook (pictured) told that he hasn’t considered asking for the license plate readers yet, but sees the potential benefit.

“We do not have them and really haven’t looked into it,” Lashbrook said. “I do think there is value to them… as an investigative tool you could review the recorded data of vehicles in an area as you approach a robbery scene or other significant event. Those records may provide information as to possible suspects. Whether or not I would be in favor of their use would be dependent on research to determine what our need is and cost compared to benefit.”

As automated license plate readers slowly make their way into the crime fighting arsenals of Iowa’s police departments (Des Moines and Sioux City are examples), the Iowa ACLU doesn’t take their use lightly.

“The controversial devices are most often mounted on patrol cars, although they may also be placed on telephone poles or other stationary objects. They can sweep 360 degrees, capturing images of every license plate they encounter. The data is then fed into a massive database for use and analysis. Information collected includes precise location, time, and date of each plate,” the Iowa ACLU said on its website recently.

“We are seeking more information about how Iowa police are using this new technology because it poses a number of privacy concerns to civil libertarians. We want to know if and how police are tracking and recording the movements of Iowa drivers,” said Ben Stone, ACLU of Iowa executive director.



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