Tagged: NOPD

NOPD Finally has a Policy on License Plate Tracking Technology Use

In December 2012 I noted that NOPD had no stated policy regarding its use or retention of data gathered through license plate scanners. Then, in July 2013, I noted that the ACLU had released a nationwide study on law enforcement use of the technology. The results of the study were not very encouraging if you are concerned about privacy and transparency.

Well, I am happy to announce that I recently discovered that NOPD finally has a policy! Policy 462 of the New Orleans Police Department Policy Manual of December 15, 2014 covers Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR). The policy begins on page 376 of the PDF if you want to read the entire policy, and also picks back up on page 891.

Some highlights:

  • The technology can only be used for official and legitimate law enforcement purposes.
  • In the event of any real-time alerts generated by the technology, officers are urged to verify the validity of the alert before taking enforcement actions.
  • Access to data gathered by the system is controlled.

Some concerns:

  1. Under the policy, data is allowed to remain on the reader for 30 days, and once downloaded to the main server it is retained for up to 180 days (6 months) unless the data is identified as evidence or subject to records requests.
  2. The policy allows for all data to be shared with other law enforcement agencies.
  3. The policy also mentions that images are gathered but treats them the same as other license plate-only data that is gathered.
  4. The policy does not include any public reporting of the use of the technology beyond what is mentioned in the policy.

I am concerned about #1 because data could be stored for 7 months under this policy. It is impossible to know if this is too long of a retention period absent further information from NOPD that retaining info for up to 7 months is necessary. I am of the opinion that the shortest possible retention periods are to be preferred.

Number 2 concerns me because the policy does not specify any limitations on sharing data with other agencies other than the requirement that it be for legitimate law enforcement purposes. The policy should require that the agency shared with also maintain a policy of short retention periods and controlled access.

Concern #3 could be addressed by a clarification of how images are stored, what they are used for, and the extent of detail included in images. Are we talking headshots of drivers and passengers, or just images of the vehicle surrounding the license plate?

Finally, #4 concerns me because while the policy requires regular internal audits, it does not allow the public to know how much data is gathered, how many crimes are solved with the data, how long data should be stored for, how many false alerts are generated, or primary neighborhoods the technology is deployed in, etc.. The ACLU recommends at least an annual public reporting, and I’m happy to agree with that at the moment.

In any event, I am pleased to finally see a written policy on the use of license plate scanners. This is a good first step in transparency and privacy, but it should be just that: a first step.

License Plate Tracking Update

Back in December I noted that NOPD has no stated policy for their usage and retention of data gathered through its use of license plate scanners. I was alarmed at this, but haven’t had much time to pursue it further.

Fortunately, the ACLU shares my concerns. Today, the ACLU released a report that analyzes the results of a nation-wide study on law enforcement policies of using and retaining data acquired by these scanners. The results are not good for privacy concerns.

New Orleans or Louisiana are not specifically mentioned in the study, but I intend to restart this project and attempt to get the Independent Police Monitor involved in the next couple of months. As I stated in December, “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.”

Stay tuned!

Our Policy Is We Have No Policy

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.

You Can Film NOPD

Even though the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights establishes the right of individuals to film or photograph police officers in the line of duty, oftentimes they feel otherwise. Well, for all of you out there who decide to exercise your Constitutional rights in this regard can rejoice. The federal Consent Decree filed this week on July 24, 2012, explicitly lays out the proper conduct for NOPD in dealing with being filmed, photographed or commented about.

“Officers shall respect the right of civilians to observe, record, and/or verbally comment on or complain about the performance of police duties occurring in public, and NOPD shall ensure that officers understand that exercising this right serves important public purposes.”

So, pretty awesome stuff. I definitely recommend reading through the entire decree. Personally, I intend on making a laminated card with the above portion and always carrying it on me.

Reminding NOPD About Louisiana Seatbelt Laws

For the record, I am not an attorney…yet. However, I can read. In light of the fact that I had two friends pulled over for a “seat belt check” Friday night in the Fontainebleau/Broadway area of New Orleans, I felt it was necessary to remind NOPD of Louisiana seat belt laws.

According to Louisiana Revised Statute 32:295.1

“A.(1)  Each driver of a passenger car, van, or truck having a gross weight of ten thousand pounds or less, commonly referred to as a pickup truck, in this state shall have a safety belt properly fastened about his or her body at all times when the vehicle is in forward motion.  The provisions of this Section shall not apply to those cars, vans, or pickups manufactured prior to January 1, 1981.” And, “(2)  A person operating or riding in an autocycle shall wear seatbelts while in forward motion.”

So, we know the law says everyone (earlier this year the legislature clarified the statute to include SUVs) must be wearing seatbelts. Whether that should be a law is a matter for another day. Anyway, so what can a police offer use as probable cause to pull someone over for not wearing a seatbelt? Section F of the statute says:

“Probable cause for violation of this Section shall be based solely upon a law enforcement officer’s clear and unobstructed view of a person not restrained as required by this Section.”

That means you cannot be stopped by police to check if you’re wearing your seatbelt. It’s pretty damn clear in the statute. My question for this NOPD District 2 female officer is, how could she clearly see, in a moving car, after dark, the driver or passenger not wearing their seatbelt? It is highly unlikely. What I suspect is that NOPD is using these illegal seatbelt stops as a way to check for other potential illegal activity, such as DWI.

I can already hear the critics. “So, what?!” “What’s the big deal? You should be wearing your seatbelt anyway!” The point is that we have at least three problems with this scenario. The first, most egregious, is NOPD’s clear inability to follow a simple law. Second, they are using false probable cause (i.e. illegal) to basically say “I’m looking out for your own safety whether you like it or not,” which is not the proper role of the government. Third, the US Constitution, by way of the 4th Amendment of the Bill of Rights, protects people from unreasonable searches without probable cause.

Last, but not least, on the off-chance that this could be classified as a seatbelt checkpoint, we still have a problem. RS 32:295.4 requires that ” Provision for advance warning to the approaching motorists with signs, flares, and other indications to warn motorists of an impending stop and to provide indication of its official nature as a police checkpoint.” That clearly was not happening in this case, so cannot be used as a defense for the stop.

So, NOPD, I would like an explanation as to why this unconstitutional, illegal, and harassing stop took place this past Friday night. I sincerely hope this is not common practice.