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Council accepts grant for license plate readers

Police Chief Paul Workman says the system is better and safer for officers to check plates for stolen vehicles, etc.

November 03, 2011|By Barbara Diamond

New technology that uses computers to check car license plates with federal, state and local law enforcement databases will be coming to Laguna Beach.

The City Council on Tuesday accepted a federal grant for two license plate readers, which are capable of connecting the plates with data on stolen vehicles, drivers with arrest warrants — even unpaid parking tickets.

Two of the readers are being offered to each municipal police department in Orange County.

"Right now, officers who drive around have to manually enter plates in their computers," said Police Chief Paul Workman. "I compare that to text messaging, and I have a safety concerns. So I am kind of excited to see these systems made available, and I favor accepting them."

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Funding is for three years. Workman was unable to provide the cost after that.

The council also voted to adopt the Orange County Chiefs and Sheriffs Assn. policy on the use of the system, when a policy is approved.

"If I go to Kelly's (Councilman Boyd's tavern) for a drink at noon, is it going to be recorded some place that my license plate was seen on Ocean Avenue for three hours?" Councilwoman Verna Rollinger asked.

Workman said county police chiefs are trying to determine what happens to information when a plate is identified.

"It has to be recorded for a period of time," Workman said. "The question is what is done with the information. We (the chiefs) are establishing a very strict policy on who would have access and how long the information is retained."

Retention of reader-obtained information could be determined by the length of an investigation or a court case, Workman said.

"Most cities are looking at no more than a year," Workman said. "It's a little sensitive because it is reading the license plate of any vehicle in front of a police car — but that is not much different than the way our cameras work."

"If you go to Kelly's at noon, I suggest you park at Wells Fargo and walk," Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson quipped.

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