September 17, 2020

Automated License Plate Reader Pilot Project

Criminals beware.  The City of Bellaire will soon be installing automated license plate readers (ALPRs) along major thoroughfares to assist police in apprehending suspects and solving crimes.  Funded by the Bellaire Police and Fire Foundation as a pilot project, the system will be evaluated over an initial one-year period to determine whether it will be continued in future police department budgets.

ALPRs are widely used by law enforcement agencies across the country.  Special cameras are mounted on poles in the right-of-way, and are motion activated to capture the license plates of vehicles passing by.  That information is then transmitted wirelessly and run through a national database to identify, in real time, “hot list” vehicles that have been reported stolen, are wanted in connection with a crime, or are associated with AMBER or Silver Alerts.  Officers are notified within seconds when there’s a positive hit, and will then visually verify the match before making a stop.

The system will also serve as an investigative tool for police to use after a crime has been committed.  Every license plate will be photographed, and the images stored on a secure server maintained by the vendor.  Officers will be able to use that information to identify suspects and track the movement of their vehicles within the City, and it will ultimately be admissible in court.

Bellaire police are sensitive to individuals’ privacy concerns and are committed to ensuring the proper handling of all data collected.  License plate images will be accessible to authorized personnel for law enforcement purposes only through an agency-specific web interface, and will be deleted after 30 days.  Because the cameras will be focused on the traffic lanes, any recordings of pedestrians or cyclists in the right-of-way would be merely incidental.

These ALPRs are not the same as the “virtual gate” being implemented over in West U., a multimillion-dollar project involving both license plate readers and surveillance cameras at all city entrances.  We will be installing ten units along select roadways, utilizing existing poles where possible.  The Police Department anticipates, assuming the system performs as expected in its first year, continuing its operation at an annual cost of $27,500.

Our sincere thanks to the Bellaire Police and Fire Foundation, and to all who support it with their generous donations, for making this and other public safety enhancements possible for us.