Those are the words reported to me this week by NOPD relayed through the New Orleans City Attorney’s office in response to my public records request from July. Yes, July. Never mind that the Louisiana public records law requires documents to be produced in 3 days. That’s not the big issue here though.
In case you missed it this summer, there was a story about a burglary suspect who was caught as a result of an NOPD vehicle that is able to scan license plates and run them through a computer while driving.
According to Uptown Messenger’s reporting:
“The reader, affixed to a normal patrol car, automatically scans the license plates it passes and checks to make sure they aren’t on stolen cars, but it also maintains a geographical database of the tags it passes.”
Overall I have no issue with the technology. But it’s that last line that got my attention because of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States v. Jones. As a result of that decision I seriously wonder if NOPD could have some major 4th Amendment problems with their use and/or storage of the license plate data they collect.
So, I requested the full NOPD policy regarding the use and storage of data associated with any and all departmental vehicle license plate scanners. The city attorney’s response:
“Please be advised that the Police Department has informed our office that no such record exists.”
This terse, 4 1/5 month late response will certainly not be the end of this. All I want to know is exactly what NOPD uses this data for and how long they keep it. I don’t think that’s asking too much.
I think we’re all in agreement that the shootings that occurred on Halloween night were bad. Yes? We can also agree that the French Quarter, in particular Bourbon and Canal St are heavily populated not only with partygoers, but also many members of NOPD on particularly festive nights. Also, from experience, we know that occasionally some ignorant, angry person decides that the best way to avenge his disagreement is to open fire on that person in public regardless of who else may be around.
Apparently though we have different ideas about what can be done to prevent these occurrences. My District C Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer stated today that she would like to see us abandon even more of our 4th Amendment rights to the NOPD. The 4th Amendment of the US Constitution says “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” It’s bad enough that Louisiana law already allows this right to be infringed upon inside bars, but Palmer’s proposal would allow the police to search anyone within 50 ft of a bar, or Alcohol Beverage Outlet (ABO), for firearms. First, this is ridiculous and would solve nothing. Second, this is ridiculous and could (and probably would, if history tells us anything) be extremely abused.
As the story of the Bourbon St shooting has come to light it’s obvious that Palmer’s proposal would have done absolutely nothing to prevent this shooting unless Marvin Carter had just happened to be loitering outside of a bar waiting for his victim. So please, let us avoid the spectacle of a public hearing and the city having to defend itself in court when it is sued for the unconstitutionality of this motion. Councilwoman Palmer, drop this motion and instead focus on the efforts already underway to address our city’s “culture of violence.” Thank you.