Public safety vs. personal privacy is expected to be the topic of discussion at a Town Hall meeting in Canton Township.
Members of the board of trustees have scheduled the discussion for 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at township hall when police officials will explain the benefits and resources of installing license plate readers at Michigan Avenue and Beck Road, a high traffic retail location in the township. The Canton Police Department received a $40,710 grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance which would cover the cost and installation of the four devices proposed.
The cameras take photographs of vehicles as they pass, recording the license plate number, date and time. The License Plate Reader (LPR) also records the make, model and color of the vehicle and the data is stored for use by law enforcement agencies. The driver of the vehicle is not photographed and the information is restricted to law enforcement agencies, officials told the trustees. The cameras do not record names, addresses or any other personal information about the drivers or passengers, although that information can be obtained by a secondary investigation, if warranted, police said.
The plate numbers recorded by the LPRs are checked against a list of license numbers associated with crimes and alert police to wanted vehicles. Types of crimes with license plates listed might include wanted subjects, stolen vehicles, amber alerts, missing persons or those on a terrorist watch list.
Police said the area in question sees about 30,000 vehicles a day and the multiple large retailers in the area report a majority of retail fraud cases to the department. Stores near the intersection include Walmart, Home Depot and Target.
Police told police that during a test of the cameras in May, the department was able to assist in the arrest of a man facing sexual conduct charges and another individual facing drunk driving charges. The cameras would also help with police efficiency as they are operational 24-hours every day.
Trustees were cautious regarding approving the installation of the devices noting privacy concerns, particularly in the current social environment. They asked if the information collected by the devices would be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests or if any of the devices or components were of Russian or Chinese manufacture.
Trustees agreed that the installation of the cameras was a valuable law enforcement tool but suggested that more discussion and public opinion would be advisable considering the possible privacy implications, although the readers have been in use in the township since 2018, according to the official police website.
The Town Hall meeting is open to the public and there will be an opportunity for public input and questions. Questions may be emailed in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to police, the readers are currently being used by Michigan State Police, Warren, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Kalamazoo, Southfield, Flint, Jackson, Wyoming, Ecorse, Lincoln Park, Troy, Sterling Heights, Chesterfield Township, Van Buren, Metro Airport, Livingston County, Grosse Ile, Grosse Pointe Park and the Oakland County Sheriff.