Police Use Automatic License Plate Readers to Track Suspects

Police throughout the Delaware Valley are recording and saving tens of millions of unsuspecting drivers’ license plate pictures.  The images allow police to document when and where a driver traveled at various times.  

“Everything we’re passing and going past, it's reading,” Lieutenant James Audette of the Coatesville Police Department said as he used an automatic license plate reader perched on the back of his squad car.

Coatesville Police keep the pictures and information associated with them for 30 days before purging it from computers. Coatesville Police didn’t know how many pictures the department captured since installing the technology in 2014.

In Philadelphia police have captured 29.9 million plate pictures in the last 18 months.

Captain Dan Angelucci said the information is stored in a massive database inside the city’s real time crime center.  He said the data is stored for one year.

“It has strict audit trails,” Angelucci said. “We know exactly who ran the tag and we know when they ran that tag.”

In Camden, police have snapped 1.2 million plate pictures since January 1.  Camden police have been tracking license plates since 2011.  They keep the license plate information for five years – meaning Camden police have every picture their automatic license plate readers have captured.

Coatesville, Philadelphia and Camden Police say the automatic license plate readers help solve crimes.  Philadelphia Police were the only department to provide the NBC 10 Investigators with specific crime data linked to the automatic license plate readers.

Philadelphia Police released the following statistics since January 1, 2014:

  • Total tags read: 29,785,983
  • Stolen Autos Recovered: 521
  • Terror suspects: 106
  • Arrests: 6
“This is an extraordinary amount of government surveillance for what appears to be a very small amount of criminal activity,” Pennsylvania ACLU legal director Mary Catherine Roper said.   “There are things in your life that are simply not public knowledge.” 
Police say the automatic license plate readers allow officers to focus on other police work while on patrol.  The license plate reader watches for stolen cars or tags associated with crimes while an officer keeps his eyes on the road and beat.
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