ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The Albuquerque Police Department has a network of cameras monitoring license plates throughout the city. Now, there’s a push to let police keep that data for longer. One city councilor is proposing changes to an existing law which increases how long police can keep it.
Instead of only holding the data from license plates for two weeks, which is the current protocol, this resolution would let the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) store it for up to a year. “What an automated license plate reader is, is essentially a camera that takes a picture and then uses what’s referred to as OCR, or object character recognition to essentially read a license plate,” said Deputy Chief J.J. Griego, APD. It gathers location information from parked vehicles and those in traffic, and then runs it against state and national databases.
“In our case, the officers have a system in their cars and it will provide them an alert when one of those license plates passes one of those cameras and has what we refer to as a hit,” Griego says. The deputy chief says they also have a historical database which a select few have access to where this information is then stored, where they are able to go back in time and investigate crimes. “We’re able to look and see what vehicles may have left that area, what vehicles came into that area,” Griego said.
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Right now, APD is only allowed to keep those pictures for 14 days before having to purge them from the system. This new resolution is asking to let APD keep them for as long as a year. “The issue that we have currently is with the 14-day limit, sometimes it’s longer than 14 days by the time we identify someone related to that crime,” Griego said, “So, by the time we identify somebody, whether it’s six months or eight months later, that information has already been purged from our system so it can’t be used to either rule a person in or rule a person out of being involved in the crime.”
The resolution says it would not cost the city any extra money, because they already have the capability to store information like this for up to one year. “I see it as a tremendous benefit, not only to the department but to the community. If we have a homicide of a child: I don’t want to be the one telling a parent that we may have had information that led to your child’s murderer, but it had to be deleted because it was 15 days ago. We missed it by one day,” Griego said.
The deputy chief wants to assure the public: “We’re not using it as a mass surveillance tool. The only time, and again, it’s strictly controlled, the only time we are using it is to solve a crime.”
The resolution also has a provision that those license plate pictures could be held even longer than a year if they’re being used in a criminal investigation. For comparison, New Mexico State Police can hold onto license plate information for up to three years. This resolution will be introduced at the City Council meeting Monday.