Documents show Somerville police use of license plate readers

ALPR technology implemented without formal usage policy

Written by Tom Nash

Automatic license plate reader (ALPR) technology is among a new generation of law enforcement tools that enables police to scan the plate of any car that passes. In Somerville, Mass., aldermen are now asking questions after a MuckRock request revealed ALPR had been used without a written policy addressing privacy issues.

In partnership with Somerville Scout magazine, MuckRock asked Somerville police for its ALPR records, which enabled mapping out how the scanners were being used but did little to shed light on why.

In the Somerville Scout story, MuckRock Projects Editor Shawn Musgrave used data released by the Somerville Police Department to map police stops made through use of the scanners.

All ALPR stops conducted by the Somerville Police Department through Aug. 24 2012,
as released to MuckRock on Oct. 2, 2012.

Regarding his request for documents about usage policy, Musgrave was told by SPD, “[W]e do not have a specific policy regarding the use of LPRs, as this technology only does what an officer can legally do manually.”

Since the story’s publication, the Board of Aldermen has begun considering whether to ask SPD to develop a written policy.


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