Marco Island installs automatic license plate readers by Jolley, Goodland bridges
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story reported inaccurate information stated in a Marco Island Police Department news release. A portion of the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge to Marco is not named for the late former Councilman Mike Minozzi. A plaque honoring him was placed at the bridge when a new span was dedicated.
A system of cameras that take photos of vehicles' license plates, shares the information with other agencies and stores it for up to three years has been installed by all of Marco Island's main bridges, and will start working Friday, the Marco Island Police Department announced Thursday in a news release.
The city installed fixed automatic license plate readers or ALPRs by the Judge S.S. Jolley and the Stan Gober Memorial (Goodland) bridges, making it virtually impossible for drivers to avoid them as they enter or exit the island in their vehicles.
"Marco Island is geographically the optimal location to place stationary ALPR devices due to our unique nature. Unlike a city with countless streets entering its jurisdiction, all our vehicular traffic enters and leaves via three bridges," the news release states.
Chad A. Marlow, senior policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said MIPD cannot treat the island as a private country club.
"If Marco Island was a country club, then they would have the reasonable right to monitor the comings and goings of everybody on their property. But Marco Island is not that, it is public," Marlow said Thursday.
Marlow said the ACLU is not completely opposed to the use of ALPRs, and that its appropriate use depends on how the ALPRs will be used and how long will the agency keep the data for.
"Where they can cause a problem is where the police decides to keep them on all the time, constantly recording license plates, and creating almost a government record that can last months or even years of everywhere a person has traveled in their car," Marlow said.
Police Chief Tracy L. Frazzano wrote in the news release that the department is "excited" to deploy the ALPRs.
"The system has a strong deterrent value which improves community safety and helps us proactively reduce crime and traffic incidents before they occur," Frazzano wrote.
ALPRs will "allow detectives to determine vehicles in the vicinity of a crime scene, confirm suspect alibis and analyze crime patterns," MIPD's news release states.
But Frazzano told the Marco Eagle last year she expects the majority of the system's alerts or "hits" to be about motor vehicle infractions such as unlicensed or uninsured drivers.
In 2020, Marco Island and Naples ranked among the top 10 safest cities in Florida, according to the National Council for Home Safety and Security and its website, alarms.org.
Marco Island City Council Chairman Jared Grifoni said Friday the fixed ALPRs are an encroachment on people's privacy.
"I believe that the citizens have a right to that privacy, especially if they are not doing anything wrong," Grifoni said.
During a budget workshop in June of last year, Grifoni stated the ALPRs would have “tremendous potential for abuse.”
Grifoni, like other councilors at the time, voted last year in favor of the city's budget for fiscal year 2021, which included the ALPRs. He said he voted in favor of the budget because "the overwhelming majority of the budgeted funds I did support."
Frazzano did not immediately respond to a request for interview.
What are ALPRs?
ALPRs are high-speed cameras that take photographs of every passing license plate, a 2013 report from ACLU 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.
MIPD's news release did not state how long will the department keep the information stored.
Images and data containing or providing personal identifying information obtained through the use of an ALPR system are for the most part 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."
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.
ALPRs are not new to Southwest Florida
There are approximately 130 ALPR devices in Collier County, according to three law enforcement agencies.
The city of Marco Island already has one mobile automatic license plate reader attached to a police vehicle, Frazzano said in a City Council budget workshop in June of last year. At the time, Frazzano said the mobile plate reader had logged more than 10,000 hits since 2015, and that the majority of the infractions were about license or registration problems.
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 Wednesday.
McGinn declined to say the exact locations of the cameras, citing a Florida statute that exempts agencies from revealing "security system plans."
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Karie Partington, media relations bureau manager with Collier County Sheriff’s Office, wrote in an email Friday the agency operates 76 ALPRs. Citing a statute exemption, Partington declined to say the location of these devices.
Carlos Perez, public information officer with Fort Myers Police Department, declined to say how many ALPRs the agency operates and their locations. Perez also cited a statute exemption.
Lee County Sherriff's Office did not immediately respond to an information request.
In October of last year, Marco Island City Council unanimously approved the purchase of stationary ALPRs for nearly $60,000 to be deployed on the Jolley and Goodland bridges. The price tag included software, services and shipping fees, according to a quote from Vetted Security Solutions.