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License plate readers lead Maywood police to stolen car, illegal immigrant

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

CLIFFVIEW PILOT SCOOP: The same day that the ACLU demanded to know how police departments throughout the nation use Automatic License Plate Readers, Maywood police recovered a stolen car and made an arrest.

Then on Tuesday, they arrested an immigrant illegally living here as he tooled up Route 17.

Officer William Phayre was patrolling busy West Pleasant Avenue around 11 a.m. when his ALPR identified a stolen car right in front of him, Chief David T. Pegg told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

Phayre pulled over the driver and arrested him on charges of stolen vehicle possession.

Yesterday, Officer Kevin Madden was cruising northbound Route 17 when the device alerted him to a vehicle with license plates that had been reported stolen out of Virginia, Pegg said.

The driver, who gave a Maryland address, was also charged with possession of stolen property – and was handed over to federal agents after U.S. Homeland Security flagged him as an undocumented alien, the chief told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

The cameras, mounted on patrol cars or utility poles, bridges and other stationary objects, snap photos of every license plate that enters their fields of view.

The vehicle registrations are automatically entered into a mobile data computer, and an alert is given for any “hits,” such as wanted persons, stolen vehicle, suspended drivers or registrations or unregistered vehicles.

“The ACLU supports the use of this technology if it is used for legitimate police investigations, such as identifying vehicles that are stolen, involved in a crime or associated with fugitives,” said Katie Wang, communications director for the ACLU of New Jersey. “Our concern is that these cameras can also infringe on the privacy of law-abiding citizens who might be going about their day-to-day activities — i.e., grocery shopping, visiting an aunt or friend, going to church, attending a political meeting — and having their movements tracked by these cameras.

“These cameras cast an awfully wide net and raises legitimate questions, such as what are police doing with information they’ve collected about people who are minding their own business who are not under investigation for anything.

“These cameras undermine the core principle in our society that government does not invade people’s privacy and collect information about citizens’ innocent activities just in case they do something wrong.”

“All the cameras do is read license plates as they drive past a patrol unit that has them,” Fort Lee Police Officer Patrick Kellett countered. “If it hits on a plate it alerts the officer — i.e., unregistered vehicle, stolen etc.

“The ALPR does not track movement,” the 22-year veteran added. “It does record in its database the time and location of the reading. It’s no different than if an officer runs a plate. The time obviously would be recorded through dispatch and the location recorded by the officer.

“This is a valuable tool for law enforcement that does not threaten privacy. The only people that should have an issue are the law breakers,” Kellett added. “The Supreme Court has already ruled there is no expectation of privacy when it comes to license plates, as they are out in the public’s eye, for the same reason a citizen can record a police officer on the street.”

On Monday the ACLU-NJ sent records requests to police departments in Hackensack, Jersey City, Newark, Passaic, Paterson, Elizabeth, New Brunswick, Atlantic City and the New Jersey State Police, among others.

The ACLU-NJ sent a separate request to the N.J. Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness and to the Department of Law & Public Safety, regarding the availability of state and federal funding to obtain ALPR technology.

In addition, the national headquarters filed federal Freedom of Information Act requests with the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Transportation to learn how the federal government funds ALPR expansion nationwide and uses the technology itself.

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