Freeport license plate readers aid police in dozens of arrests

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Kristin Thorne reports police license plate readers have led to arrests and violations in Freeport. (WABC)

Dangerous criminals are off the streets thanks to a recent addition to one Long Island police department's crime-fighting arsenal.

In just three months since setting up license plate readers, Freeport police have made 25 arrests and handed out thousands of violations.

Officials say the cameras helped them track down a man wanted for burglarizing several churches in Nassau County, an alleged car thief and a man wanted for murder in Virginia who was driving through the town allegedly with a loaded rifle in his car.

The cameras have viewed 15 million license plates in the last 90 days, according to authorities, which equals about 2,000 plates per minute.

The program is called Operation Safe Streets, with the cameras costing about $750,000 to install. The plates are monitored 24/7 by police in the precinct and in patrol vehicles, and they essentially alert officers if a hit comes up for a stolen vehicle or a vehicle involved in some sort of crime.

"Since the inception of the project, we have impounded over 548 vehicles, 2,008 summons have been issued, 15 stolen vehicles were returned to the owners, and 25 persons arrested," Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy said.

The cameras do come with some privacy concerns, prompting the ACLU to speak out against them ever since they were installed.

Jason Starr, Long Island Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, issued the following statement:

"The so-called 'Ring of Steel' program is a significant intrusion into the lives of millions of innocent people. The tracking of people's location constitutes a significant invasion of privacy, which can reveal many things about their lives, such as what friends, doctors, protests, political events, or churches a person may visit. Without the appropriate operational and technical safeguards, coupled with detailed usage and privacy policies, this program creates the building blocks of a massive government database about New Yorkers, limited only by the number of vehicles passing the cameras."

But that is not stopping the Freeport Police Department, which is considering hiring about six to eight new police officers to deal with the monitoring.
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