By Betsy Dolan
When it comes to expanding Sugar Land’s license plate recognition (LPR) camera system, Police Chief David Brinkley and Councilwoman, Amy Mitchell are on opposite sides.
“Even in my case where someone burglarized my home, someone saw a vehicle or a person and we could have used an LPR system to further enhance the identification,” Brinkley said, referring to the February 13 incident when two teenagers broke into the police chief’s home.
But Mitchell wasn’t sold.
“We’ve had an increase in crime and a reduction in officers and I think we need to focus on hiring more officers,” Mitchell said.
Sugar Land is preparing for a $1.6 million expansion of their LPR camera program. The plan calls for 80 cameras to be installed along major thoroughfares north of Highway 90A.
The cameras would capture license plate information from cars entering or leaving the city and could be used as an investigative tool to solve crimes, said Brinkley.
Mitchell cast the only dissenting vote in the discussion of Resolution 1308 that set policy guidelines detailing how LPR camera data will be collected, stored and who will have access to it.
The resolution requires that a specially appointed officer within the department have administrative oversight of the LPR system. In addition, images captured by the LPR cameras will not be kept longer than 30 days. The information will not be shared with the public and the monitoring will be done passively and not in real time.
Councilman Harish Jajoo asked if citizens could obtain some of the images by filing an Open Records Request.
“What I have been told by the city attorneys is that you could get information on any vehicles registered to you but not one anyone else’s,” Brinkely said.
Mitchell expressed frustration that Brinkley hasn’t provided specific information on the effectiveness of LPR cameras in other cities or even at the First Colony Mall/Town Square area where the city currently has three cameras.
“First Colony Mall is not a good example of the test product because most of our crimes occur in the mall itself,” Brinkely said. “Finding a license plate number in a petty theft case would be next to impossible.”
The current expansion plan could lead to a city-wide LPR camera system possibly by 2015.
“City Council told us to implement a pilot project for a year, come back and assess it and analyze the good and the bad and the council would decide whether to expand it city wide,” Brinkley said.
In addition to the three LPR cameras at the mall and Town Square, Sugar Land has five mobile systems on police vehicles.