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Police Move Forward With License Plate Readers, Cameras

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TWC News: Police Move Forward With License Plate Readers, Cameras
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New York City police are moving forward on a multimillion-dollar counter-terrorism initiative, installing more than a hundred license plate readers and eventually thousands of cameras in Lower Manhattan. NY1 Criminal Justice Reporter Solana Pyne takes a look at the program in the following report.

As Police officer Michael Gerbasi drives, a camera on the roof of his patrol car photographs license plates. A computer then checks a database to see, for example, if the car is stolen.

"It will notify us with an alert sound on the computer, and then actually there is a voice that speaks out and says, Îstolen vehicle’ and it will give you a picture of the plate and a description of the vehicle,” says Gerbasi.

More than a hundred of the readers — some on cars, others in fixed places — are about to be deployed en-masse in Lower Manhattan as part of a massive $106 million counter-terrorism initiative years in the planning.

“Starting in January, we'll be putting in our license plate readers. That will be, kind of, phase one of this program,” says Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

The license plate readers are just the tip of the iceberg in what's billed as the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative.

“We're looking to put in, ultimately, a thousand cameras in public spaces, link it to 2,000 private sector cameras,” says Kelly.

All the cameras would be monitored by police at one location. Virtually anyone who walks or drives south of Canal Street could be under surveillance.

The plan also includes mobile barriers on streets the department says are key choke points into the area. They could be automatically moved into place, effectively sealing off Lower Manhattan.

“That will enable us to wall off that area in extreme situations,” says Kelly.

It's all modeled on the so-called ring of steel in London, where cameras have helped authorities find terrorism suspects. It’s a first for the US.

"This is the first time that the government and the police in particular will have the ability to track everyone moving around in a public area,” says Chris Dunn of the NYCLU.

Concerned it's an invasion of privacy, the NYCLU has issued freedom of information law requests to get more information about exactly how the program works.

“The police department should not be spending a hundred million dollars of public money to put up thousands of cameras to track New Yorkers without there being some public debate and some public oversight,” says Dunn.

Police say the only information kept long-term will be about suspected law breakers. And that the City Council already approved part of the $40 million dollars the department is using to get the program started.

— Solana Pyne
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