Police would have more options for using license plate readers to track down wanted vehicles under a bill approved by an N.C. House committee Tuesday.
House Bill 242 would allow police to use license plate readers on and around state-maintained roads. Some law enforcement agencies already use the devices, but they can only set them up on city-maintained streets or on private property.
Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House said the change would be a big boost to his agency’s investigations, because most of the town’s roads are state-maintained.
As an example, House told lawmakers about an armed robbery in which police had a photo of the vehicle involved. “It took us almost a year to solve that case,” he said. “The way we could have solved that in maybe a few hours would be if we had license plate readers – think of the man hours that went into that investigation.”
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License plate readers are small devices that can be mounted on police cars. They check the license plates of passing traffic and can instantly search databases of wanted vehicles and missing people, alerting police when there’s a match.
Fred Baggett of the N.C. Association of Chiefs of Police stressed that the devices don’t take photos of vehicles, drivers or passengers. “This is old technology used all over the country,” Baggett said.
While the majority of the House Transportation Committee voted for the bill, a few legislators voted no because of privacy concerns. If the bill becomes law, the N.C. Department of Transportation would need to approve agreements with law enforcement agencies that want to use license plate readers on state roads.