Following up on the EFF report regarding license-plate reader vendors and roadside debt collection by police in Texas, Eric Dexheimer and Tony Plohetski at the Austin Statesman delved into the topic in more detail in today's paper. The story opened with this workaday description of what promises soon to become the future of Texas traffic enforcement:
When Guadalupe County Precinct 3 Deputy Constable Jesse Rosales arrives to work each morning, his computer greets him with a list of people who have outstanding warrants, mostly for minor crimes like traffic offenses. In the past, finding the offenders was time-consuming, and Rosales says there were plenty of days he came up empty.This isn't some futuristic Big-Brotherish dystopian vision, it's what traffic enforcement cops at the local constable's office do with their time today and tomorrow in Guadalupe County, Texas. Continued the Statesman:
Yet unlike the old warrant lists, the ones the deputy receives today are a technological wonder. Each defendant’s name is accompanied by a picture of his vehicle; an aerial photograph pinpoints the exact location where the car was observed only hours earlier.
The pictures Rosales uses are made possible by high-speed cameras attached to fleets of private cars driven around by bank and finance company repo men cruising neighborhoods in search of delinquent auto loans. Nationally, about 2,300 photos per minute flow into a massive database of license plate photos maintained by a Fort Worth company called Digital Recognition Network.Quite a few other states have regulated or even prohibited long-term retention of license plate reader generated location data by law enforcement, with Utah and Arkansas banning "private companies from amassing license plate data" entirely, the paper reported.
Then, in a partnership that civil libertarians and privacy advocates worry could cross the line from efficient policing to intrusive government and corporate snooping, client law enforcement agencies use that information to obtain up-to-date locations of scofflaws who owe money. When Rosales finds one of his targets using the photos and his own company-supplied license plate reading camera, the person can be arrested, or pay up right away — 10 months ago, the deputy also had a credit card reader installed in his cruiser.
In exchange, a Digital Recognition Network-affiliated company called Vigilant Solutions gets to keep a 25 percent fee tacked onto the fine. For a standard traffic violation warrant, that comes to about $75.
In recent months, constables and the sheriff’s department in Guadalupe County have installed the system, as have the cities of Kyle and Lakeway. (Lakeway owns its cameras and so gives no money to Vigilant from warrant collections.) Others around the state say they are considering it. Those using it report they are thrilled with the results. Letting people pay directly to police is convenient for defendants, they say, and potentially keeps them out of jail.
It has also been lucrative. A year ago, Rosales was working as a constable’s deputy only one day a week. But after he began bringing in thousands of dollars a month, “I went to our court and asked for a full-time person,” said Guadalupe County Commissioner Jim Wolverton.
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