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County approves funds to expand FCPD’s automatic license plate reader program

Flock Safety ALPR camera system (photo courtesy of Flock Safety)

Fairfax County officials are gearing up to expand the police department’s use of automated license plate readers (ALPR).

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a $136,270 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice today (Tuesday) to further support the program. The Fairfax County Police Department is seeking the expansion in response to a rise in violent carjackings and stolen vehicles, according to county staff.

The FCPD introduced the camera system last year with an eight-week trial period that placed the technology in two locations. This spring, the department installed another 25 readers, extending the trial through Oct. 31.

Over the last 13 months, county officials say the police department has recovered 125 stolen vehicles and 22 firearms using the technology. The system also reportedly helped find 19 missing persons.

“The placement of these systems into neighborhoods will foster new partnerships with the communities that have requested LPR support. It will also increase communications between police and the neighborhoods,” county staff said in a memo to the board.

The camera system comes from Flock Safety, which has installed ALPRs in more than 2,000 localities across the country.

The technology captures a vehicle’s license plate, color, make and model and sends a real-time alert to law enforcement if a stolen vehicle used in a crime matches records in the database.

County officials say the program doesn’t conflict with the county’s public trust and confidentiality policy, which aims to ensure that immigrant residents can utilize county services without the fear that information will be disclosed to federal immigration officials.

“The FCPD LPR program specifically prohibits users from using the system to identify, alert, or enforce any immigration related warrants, which is a practice that is reinforced in the training class and every time a user logs into the system,” county staff wrote.

The FCPD is permitted to store data for up to one year, but Flock Safety’s system only stores data for up to 30 days, FFXnow previously reported. The issue of data retention has been a subject of legal and legislative debate.

In 2019, a federal court ruled that an FCPD database of photos of vehicle license plates violated Virginia privacy law. A year later, the Virginia State Supreme Court overturned that decision. During its session this year, the General Assembly considered a bill that would limit how data from ALPRs is stored, but it was left in a senate transportation committee.

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