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Cedar Rapids Police Chief Plans to Push for License Plate Readers

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Almost three years after red-light and speed enforcement cameras debuted in Cedar Rapids, the city's new police chief plans to push for cameras that automatically scan license plates.

In a wide-ranging interview Friday with The Gazette's editorial board, Police Chief Wayne Jerman said he expects to approach the city council about license plate readers. He said he does not have a timeline about when he might bring up the topic to city leaders.

"It's my second week," Jerman said with a smile. "But I do envision going in that direction."

The technology consists of cameras mounted on patrol cars that capture license plate information. The information is then compared to a database and alerts officers instantaneously if, for example, the vehicle has been reported stolen or registered owner has an outstanding arrest warrant. Officers have been able to manually input plate information for years, but this automates the process.

In Iowa, deputies in Polk County began using license plate readers last year, and police in Sioux City outfitted one patrol car this fall. Des Moines police have purchased equipment to have plate readers in two patrol cars, but they are not being used on the streets yet.

Jerman, who started in Cedar Rapids on Oct. 29, said his previous department in Montgomery County, Md. had 22 license plate readers. He said they are especially effective in locating missing persons and wanted felons.

Many of the "nuts and bolts" would have to be discussed about how license plate readers would be used in Cedar Rapids, but Jerman said he supports their use only for "law enforcement purposes." He said they could help track suspects in criminal investigations, either those who live in Cedar Rapids or who come to the city from another area.

Before any plate readers were deployed, Jerman said he would have a policy in place that outlines how they would be used and how long the data would be kept. His former department in Maryland has not made a decision about data retention.

"There are some agencies that retain the data forever, and there are some that delete it at the end of the shift," Jerman said. "I think there can be some compromise there."

Earlier this fall, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa called use of the license plate readers an invasion of privacy.

Jerman said requests from a non-law enforcement entity to access the data would "have to be refused."

"Individual rights are a concern, and I want that protected," Jerman said.

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