Marco Island City Council approves 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 unanimously approved the purchase of three stationary automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) for nearly $60,000 to be deployed on the Jolley and Goodland bridges.

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

Police Chief Tracy L. Frazzano said after the meeting the ALPRs, which will cover all south and northbound lanes of the island's access points, will be used for "investigative purposes."

"(It will) help track anybody as far as warrants or stolen vehicles," she said Monday.

But Frazzano expects the majority of the system's alerts or "hits" to be about motor vehicle infractions like unlicensed or uninsured drivers, she said.

Marco Island Police Chief Tracy L. Frazzano speaks during a City Council meeting on Oct. 19, 2020.

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

ALPRs are not new to Southwest Florida.

The city of Naples has approximately 50 license plate reader cameras located throughout the city, Lt. Bryan McGinn, public information officer with Naples Police Department, wrote in an email Oct. 21. 

McGinn declined to say the exact locations of the cameras, citing a Florida statute that exempts agencies from revealing "security system plans."

Lee County Board of Commissioners approved in June a request from police asking permission to put automated license plate readers on county property, Fort Myers News-Press reported.

The city of Marco already has one license plate reader attached to a police vehicle, Frazzano said in a City Council budget workshop in June. That plate reader has logged more than 10,000 hits since 2015. She said the majority of the infractions are license or registration problems.

The ALPR system will have safeguards to prevent abuse, including protocols set by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Frazzano said.

"There are audits that are done which will match whenever an officer goes into the system, why they are going in and what information they are pulling out of it," she said.

Frazzano said it's too early to tell when the system will be installed.

Outgoing City Councilor Victor Rios asked Frazzano why City Council should allow "constant spying of who is coming to the island."

"I think it infringes on my civil liberties and the civil liberties of our citizens and visitors," he said.

Marco Island City Councilor Victor Rios speaks during a council meeting on Oct. 19, 2020.

Frazzano said the ALPR system does not violate people's right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. She also said people's expectation of privacy diminishes in public places and that the system's use will be "limited."

"We are not monitoring every movement that you make when you come on the island," she said.

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 wrote that 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 filed 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.

Rios also asked Frazzano if it would more beneficial for the community to purchase body cameras for police officers instead of ALPRs.

Frazzano said body cameras are subject to public record requests while ALPRs are not. She added the city would face additional costs in order to evaluate and edit camera footage.

Images and data containing or providing personal identifying information obtained through the use of an ALPR system are confidential and exempt from public record requests, according to state law.

The information can be disclosed by or to a criminal justice agency in the performance of the agency’s official duties and to the vehicle's registered owner unless it constitutes an "active criminal investigative information."

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, but Frazzano said they are needed to keep the island safe.

"Don't we always want to be the safest community?" she said.

What are automatic license plate readers?

Automatic license plate readers do not have the capability to detect speed, said MIPD Capt. Dave Baer. "It cannot and will not be used to issue speeding tickets," he said.

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.

"We want to use as many tools as we can to make this island as safe as everybody wants it to be," Frazzano said.

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