Marco Island City Council to consider purchase of license plate readers for Jolley and Goodland bridges

The Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge leading to Marco Island in November 2012.

Marco Island City Council will consider Monday authorizing the purchase of three stationary automatic license plate readers for about $60,000 to be deployed on the bridges leading to the island.

The price tag also includes software, services and shipping fees, a quote from the company Vetted Security Solutions shows.

Police Chief Tracy L. Frazzano wrote in a report that a competitive bidding process does not have to be completed.

"The department currently has an identical mobile system deployed," she wrote. "While there are other vendors or firms who market ALPR systems, each has proprietary hardware and software, therefore we cannot use competitor's hardware or software in conjunction with our current system."

Marco Island Police Chief Tracy L. Frazzano speaks during a City Council meeting on Oct. 5, 2020.

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Automatic license plate readers, or ALPRs, are high-speed cameras that take photographs of every passing license plate, an American Civil Liberties Union report from 2013 states. Combined with software, it analyzes the photographs to identify license plate numbers.

ALPRs compare each license plate number to databases of vehicles of interest to law enforcement and alerts police when these vehicles are observed, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police's website.

The system then stores the photograph, the plate number, and the date, time and location where the automobile was seen. ALPR data may be retained for no longer than three years, according to state guidelines.

ALPRs can be used to locate stolen, wanted or suspect vehicles; suspects in criminal investigation or wanted for arrest; witnesses or victims of violent crime; and missing persons, according to the police association.

But the ACLU says the vast majority of license plate data collected is from people who have done nothing wrong at all. "Often, only a fraction of 1% of reads are hits — and an even smaller fraction result in an arrest," its report states.

The city already has one license plate reader attached to a police vehicle, Frazzano said in a City Council budget workshop in June, logging more than 10,000 hits since 2015. She said most were due to license or registration problems.

In June, the civil rights group New Civil Liberties Alliance sent a letter to Frazzano and other city officials urging them to "reconsider putting in license plate readers and stated a lawsuit could be forthcoming if its position didn’t change," the Naples Daily News reported.

The group is representing Coral Gables resident Raul Mas Canosa in a lawsuit against the city for its use of ALPRs. Mas Canosa says "the city’s use of automatic license plate readers is a violation of Florida law and Floridians’ Fourth Amendment rights to privacy," according to the organization's website.

Marco Island City Councilor Larry Honig speaks during a council meeting on Oct. 7, 2019.

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City Councilor Larry Honig said Wednesday the use of ALPRs is "an unnecessary violation of the Fourth Amendment" that protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures.

"I don't like the trade off between an invasive, unwarranted search versus the minor capture of previous small infractions," Honig said.

City Council Chairman Erik Brechnitz said Wednesday that it is a stretch to say there are privacy issues with the use of ALPRs.

"We are not getting any information that isn't public anyway," he said. 

Brechnitz said he is going to vote in favor of approving the purchase, acknowledging the use of ALPRs sometimes results in innocent people being pulled over.

Brechnitz said his wife was pulled over after a license plate reader on a police vehicle inaccurately showed she was driving without insurance. He said his wife showed the officer proof she had insurance and was subsequently allowed to continue driving.

"It was a minor inconvenience for her, but it was no big deal," he said. "So I guess, maybe, some innocent people can get pulled over if there is a mistake of that sort, but by and large I think it helps our police keep people off the streets of Marco Island that are law breakers."

Marco Island City Councilor Charlette Roman speaks during a council meeting on Jan. 6, 2020.

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The proposal to purchase ALPRs comes as Marco Island ranked as the third safest city in Florida this year, according to the National Council for Home Safety and Security.

Crime does not have to go up before purchasing the license plate readers, some councilors said.

"I don't think we have to wait until crime is serious, it threatens our community here on the island, for us to consider such a purchase," City Councilor Charlette Roman said.

"Part of that is preventative and we don't want (crime) to get worse," Brechnitz said.

City Council Chairman Erik Brechnitz speaks during a council meeting on Sept. 16, 2019.

Honig said police have not demonstrated that ALPRs are needed on the island to keep people safe.

"They certainly have not shown that it is effective in reducing or preventing crime," he said. "What they have shown is that it has detected some very small percentage of persons with outstanding violations."

Some councilors said they trust Frazzano when she says ALPRs are needed on the island.

"This was one item that she said it is a must-have," Roman said.

Said Brechnitz: "If my professionals that I rely on for that kind of advice tell me that it is helpful to them to get bad people off the streets, then I'm going to take their advice."

City Council's next meeting is 6:30 p.m., Oct. 19, in the community room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.

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