FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Authorities have a variety of different methods to preserve the law. One of those tools is one that you’ve probably been exposed to daily is the automated license plate recognition system (ALPR).

ALPR systems will automatically take a picture of a vehicle and its license plate. Then, using optical character recognition will compare the plate number acquired to one or more databases also called “hot lists” of vehicles of interest to law enforcement. If there is a match, it will alert law enforcement officers.

This can be a very helpful tool in finding stolen vehicles, finding suspects, witnesses, or victims. Allowing officers to concentrate their resources on specific areas where the vehicle was spotted by a camera. At a crime scene, this can also help investigators canvas license plates to help find suspects or witnesses of a crime.

Unfortunately, in California, the system has had its flaws. A report by the Auditor of the State of California, directed by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, found that law enforcement agencies needed to improve their use of the system. Including better protection of individual privacy, data security, better decisions on sharing data, and improved oversight on who uses the system.

Some of the agencies that were audited according to the report, had shared their images with hundreds of entities across the U.S. and were unable to provide evidence that proved that they had the right or needed the images. Also, there was no clarity on who had access to the data or how to destroy it. The four agencies audited were Los Angeles, Sacramento, Marin, and Fresno.

ALPR databases are only accessible by law enforcement agencies and they cannot be shared with the private sector companies or the public. Even within those agencies, only those who have had training using the system can access it. The data is saved for a set period of time in order to allow witnesses and victims of crime to report it to law enforcement.

Locally here in the Valley, we spoke with the Fresno Police Department who shared with us that they only share their license plate reader data with neighboring states and only after a Memorandum of Understanding with the requesting agency has been signed. In other words, they need to explain why they need to use it. At this point, Fresno PD takes no part in helping the other agency in looking for data in their system.

An interesting fact is that Fresno PD does not share its data with ICE per California Law (State Bill 54). It would seem that decisions at the state level have made it easier for authorities at the local level to make these decisions and protect the rights that people may not have in other states.