AUSTIN (KXAN) — Cameras with license plate readers have been touted by law enforcement in Central Texas as an effective way to solve crimes, but some residents and organizations have concerns about privacy.
Here’s a list of cities and counties in Central Texas where the LPRs are being used by local law enforcement.
Austin City Council in September 2022 chose to reinstate the Austin Police Department’s license plate reader program, which allowed it to start back up immediately. The program was discontinued when council cut APD’s budget in 2020.
APD previously said the cameras helped detectives crack dozens of violent crime cases between 2016 and 2020. But some organizations, like EFF Austin, a local digital civil liberties advocacy organization, are concerned about people’s rights and privacy.
APD said in August 2022 an audit on its database would take place every three months to ensure the data was being used correctly and that officers would be subject to criminal codes for misusing the tech.
The program costs taxpayers a little under $115,000.
In August 2022, Buda City Council approved six Flock safety cameras to be installed throughout the city. Buda Police Chief Bo Kidd told KXAN then they were planning to install them in the downtown area as well as near busy shopping centers.
Buda Police is looking to use the data to help with stolen vehicle cases.
For the program’s first year, the cameras will be funded by a $20,000 grant. The chief said they’ll track how effective the cameras are in solving crimes and will then decide if it’s a technology they want to keep using.
Hays County said it’s installing six cameras around the county at a cost of $17,000, as of September 2022. For now, temporary locations have been pinpointed.
The city decided in April 2022 to install Flock safety cameras with license plate readers. The city explains on its website the cameras can capture images of rear license plates and alert police to stolen vehicles or vehicles related to wanted or missing persons.
The Pflugerville Police Department said it does have a policy in place that requires data to be erased after 30 days and quarterly audits of use. It said the cameras don’t enforce traffic laws to catch red light runners or speeders, and they don’t contain facial recognition software.
Twenty-eight cameras at first were approved by city council in April 2022 to be installed. The police department has a map on its website showing where the cameras are located. The department also has a transparency portal to show how the data is being used.
In September 2022, city council approved upgrades to the Round Rock Police Department’s technology, including its Flock camera system, which has integrated license plate readers.
According to a Flock services agreement, the cameras can capture “audio, images and recordings data of suspected vehicles.”
The city had a free trial-run with the technology first earlier in April through mid-June 2022. The pilot program included 30 cameras. Round Rock Police said the cameras helped in stolen vehicle cases and a jugging case during the trial.
In May 2022, Williamson County approved a 12-month pilot program of the Flock camera system with license plate readers. As part of the program, the county will get 25 cameras at first to test out.
At the time, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office said it did not have a date on when the cameras would be installed. KXAN has reached out to Williamson County to see if there’s an update.
The sheriff’s office said Flock cameras could, for example, connect burglaries across several neighborhoods based on license plates that appear in the same areas.
This list will be updated if more cities and counties choose to install license plate readers.