NORTH HAVEN — The police department wants to purchase an automatic license plate reader, a device that has drawn criticism from civil liberty advocates.
Using a high-speed camera, license plate readers can identify vehicles suspected in traffic violations and unregistered or stolen vehicles by checking scans in a connected police database.
It can even potentially identify wanted persons. Police Chief Thomas McLoughlin said officers could review images taken in the time and area of a robbery or burglary to aid in criminal investigations.
McLoughlin said the department hasn’t identified a brand or model to buy, but the $25,000 requested would cover the device and a package of professional installation, warranty and maintenance.
The device would be mounted permanently on a police vehicle and has an expected life span of five years.
The American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the use of license plate readers based on privacy concerns surrounding the storage of information on the date, time and location of vehicles not suspected of a traffic violation or crime.
McLoughlin said information collected in North Haven would be stored locally on a computer and after “a reasonable amount of time, would be deleted. It won’t be months or years.”
He added the department won’t pool information with state or regional law enforcement. However, the department could share information with state police or neighboring town police departments if they request it.
He said he wants to avoid a “Big Brother” connotation.
“This is technology that is used most everywhere,” he added.
According to the ACLU, a 2011 study showed nearly 75 percent of police agencies surveyed used license place readers, and 85 percent planned to increase use within five years.
David McGuire, ACLU of Connecticut executive director, said license plate readers “present a significant privacy concern for motorists in Connecticut.”
“Everyone agrees we want to keep communities safe and give police resources to keep communities safe,” McGuire said, but “if data is retained, not dumped, it creates a rich digital database of every innocent motorist.”
McGuire said before a police department uses license plate readers, there ought to be a local ordinance or strong police policy on how long scans are stored, to limit the useless building up of data, and an audit system, to ensure police are abiding by the data retention policy.
“Transparency from the start goes a long way,” McGuire said.