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Cameras at the Four Corners

Last updated on 2021-08-24

Recently cameras have appeared on the lamp posts at the Four Corners (intersection of Hwys 60 & 113). Local residents are, of course, curious to learn more about them.

The cameras are actually Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs), not traditional video cameras, and are jointly operated and maintained by the Lodi Police Department, the Columbia County Sheriff Department, and an organization known as the Wisconsin License Plate Reader Association1Editor’s Note: This association has no web presence that I could find. I have requested contact information and will publish a follow-up article if I receive more information.

What are ALPRs?

Automated License Plate Readers (also known as Automatic Number Plate Recognition–ANPR) are exactly what they sound like. They are cameras which contain software which recognizes license plates, reads the plate numbers, and reports that information back to a central database.

From Wikipedia:

Automatic number-plate recognition can be used to store the images captured by the cameras as well as the text from the license plate, with some configurable to store a photograph of the driver. Systems commonly use infrared lighting to allow the camera to take the picture at any time of day or night.

The cameras at the Four Corners “take a picture of the entire field of view but only “records” the plate or letters they see”, according to Chief Smith.

Who Paid?  Who Pays?

The $35,000 system was paid for with a grant from Columbia County. The data storage is paid for by the Columbia County Sheriff through $200 annual dues paid to the Wisconsin License Plate Reader Association. Additional costs for the WiFi required to access the cameras is paid for by the Lodi Police Department.

Who Sees What?

The images captured by the cameras is only viewable by authorized law enforcement officers. Sheriff Brandner didn’t specify which officers in his department were so authorized. Chief Wayne Smith said that, in Lodi, only he and Lt. Bill Nichols were so authorized.

Any law enforcement officer with a valid warrant would, however, by definition, be authorized to view any data specified in the warrant.

While the actual images captured by the cameras may be officially restricted to authorized law enforcement officers, the data from those images is not. In many situations, it is, at times, shared with all law enforcement officers. Sheriff Branden explains:

The data obtained from this system is used for investigatory purposes for drug trafficking, Silver/Green/Amber alerts, kidnapping, human and sex traffickers, and other criminal investigations. This was an LPR camera that made us aware that the amber alert vehicle was in Columbia County.

Sheriff Brandner replied with a simple “no” when asked “Is the data available to the public? If so, under what circumstances and what procedures?” While this may be true for “common” access, the data is almost certainly obtainable through a subpoena, and quite likely obtainable (though possibly with some restrictions and/or redactions) through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Chief Smith addressed the concerns over the cameras thus:

As with anything there is a possibility for abuse and for this very reason access is limited to only those needed. I would like to think that my department has rebuilt the trust in our community between the citizens and the Police. I hope citizens feel Lodi’s Law Enforcement is doing its best respectfully and within the rules of law and policy.

No Current Law

Currently, Wisconsin does not have any legislation directly dealing with ALPRs, how they can be used, or how the data is stored or retained. A bill was proposed in 2013 to set limits on their use, but it didn’t pass. The bill, drafted by state Reps. David Craig (R-Big Bend) and Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) and state Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), is described in a Milwaukeee Journal Sentinel article:

The proposed bill would limit the technology’s use by state and local governments, as well as law enforcement agencies, to only cases of an active criminal investigation of an identified suspect.

The bill also mandates that no information obtained through the plates may be shared with a third party that is not a government entity, and that all data collected must be destroyed within 48 hours unless it is needed for further criminal investigation or prosecution.

Currently, just 16 states have legislation addressing ALPRs and their use.

Why?

Chief Smith wrapped up his statements with his reasoning for wanting the cameras.

I believe the cameras will be a much needed tool and will help us solve crimes. Lodi has experienced robberies in the past including to our banks. I intend to do what’s possible to protect our community from violent crime and cameras such as this will allow us to swiftly bring those responsible to justice.

This article was edited to correct a spelling mistake.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Editor’s Note: This association has no web presence that I could find. I have requested contact information and will publish a follow-up article if I receive more information.

One Comment

  1. tescher tescher 2021-08-22

    I don’t know man, this seems… concerning

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