Split commission approves license plate readers for split city

Objections remain, but 3-2 vote means cameras will be activated in police cars, put at some Dayton sites.

After weeks of debate and a 3-2 vote, Dayton police have received authorization from city leaders to use automated license plate readers in their cruisers and at fixed sites around the city.

Police and some business owners, community members and elected leaders say they believe the technology will help solve crimes, recover stolen vehicles and eliminate bias in which vehicles officers decide to pull over.

“They are a tool that this community needs,” said Barry Hall, owner of Champion Auto-Truck-Fleet services and president of the Greater Old North Dayton Business Association.

But other community members, advocacy groups and a couple of city commissioners say they have seen no evidence the cameras deter or solve crimes.

They also said they believe police did not follow the correct procedures to move forward with adopting the technology, and that police have not included policies to ensure people’s rights are not infringed upon.

“I don’t see a lot of those safeguards in the actual use policy, which (police) are required by (city) ordinance to produce,” said Kathleen Kersh, who is an attorney and a member of the Coalition on Public Protection, which consists of members of a variety of local organizations.

After more than two hours of debate and public comments, the Dayton City Commission on Wednesday night voted 3-2 to allow Dayton police to use automated license plate reader technology.

The city commission last year approved an ordinance that requires police to produce an impact report about proposed police surveillance technology.

The impact report is supposed to outline how the technology will work, its costs, independent evaluations of the devices, descriptions of possible adverse impacts on civil rights and liberties and planned safeguards to protect those rights.

Police also must hold a public hearing on proposed surveillance tech. The hearing on automated license plate readers took place Wednesday night.

Dayton Mayor Jeffrey Mims Jr. and commissioners Chris Shaw and Matt Joseph voted in favor of authorizing police to use the devices. Commissioners Darryl Fairchild and Shenise Turner-Sloss cast votes in opposition.

The mayor said more than 1,000 communities use plate readers, and Dayton is just now catching up.

He read off a lengthy list of local jurisdictions that use the devices, which include Kettering, Huber Heights, Beavercreek, Vandalia, Englewood, West Carrollton, Moraine, Trotwood and Miami Twp.

Flock Safety, which provided the cameras Dayton police used during a trial period in 2020, says its technology has been deployed by law enforcement in more than 1,500 cities.

Commissioner Joseph said he believes the technology, if properly used, will be beneficial and could help make Dayton safer. He said he thinks the city will put in the right checks and balances to make sure the technology is used safely and fairly.

Commissioner Shaw said this is “a work in progress” and they will continue to refine policies and regulations on plate readers after they are deployed and evaluated.

But Turner-Sloss said community members’ concerns about privacy and the potential misuse of data that the plate readers collect have not been addressed.

Turner-Sloss said neighborhoods should be able to remove fixed-site cameras if they are not wanted. She said she is worried about plate readers being overused in communities of color.

Police say they will only install fixed-site devices if neighborhoods want them and if local crime data indicate they can help.

Turner-Sloss also said many community members would like to see police reduce the length of time they store the data they collects. Police officials say they plan to retain data for 30 days, which they claim is a fairly short timeframe when it comes to investigations.

Fairchild, who peppered Dayton police officials with questions about the technology, said the city and police did not provide independent evidence or research showing plate readers reduce crime or remove bias.

“Personally I was disappointed with the impact report, particularly because I didn’t find it objective,” Fairchild said.

Fairchild said the report should have contained the pros and cons, but it was entirely one-sided, in favor of law enforcement, and potential downsides were not mentioned or explored.

Fairchild also said he’s worried that data captured by surveillance technology could violate people’s Fourth Amendment rights to privacy. Police say the readers scan plates on public roadways, where people have no expectation of privacy.

The readers scan license plates and alert officers when the information matches vehicles that are stolen, vehicles that are connected to felony or domestic violence crimes, as well as criminal suspects or Amber or Silver alerts, said Dayton police Major Paul Saunders.

Most crimes involve a vehicle in some way, he said, and plate readers help police develop leads and identify vehicles that may be tied to serious crimes and emergency situations.

Saunders insisted police will not share its data with federal immigration authorities or outside agencies.

He also said the readers will not cost the city any money, because the technology is already built into the existing in-car cameras, they just need to be activated. Police have grant money to acquire fixed-site cameras, he said.

Dayton police Chief Kamran Afzal said plate readers just automate what police already do — run license plates — so they don’t have to enter the information manually, and the cameras eliminate officer bias because the alerts are based on objective data in the system.

He said there’s not a lot of research available about plate readers, but he thinks they are a valuable law enforcement tool, even though they are not a “panacea” for crime fighting.

Police expect to activate the plate readers in the department’s roughly 120 vehicles.

About 14 community members spoke during the public hearing, and they were evenly split in support and opposition of the city allowing police to utilize plate readers at this time.

Gale Kooken, chairman of Dayton-Phoenix Group, a manufacturer in Old North Dayton, said he fully supports the deployment of plate readers.

“It is my responsibility to make sure we provide a safe environment — we have about 300 employees ... this would help,” he said.

Destiny Brown, an attorney who worked with the Coalition on Public Protection, said license plate readers could contribute to over policing in Black and brown communities.

“To store mass identifying information for 30 days without legitimate reason is not only an infringement on citizens’ privacy, but it is not a cost-effective choice for a city that is already on a limited budget,” she said.

About the Author