LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Lexington police are planning to install 25 license plate reader cameras across the city in April.
Assistant Chief Eric Lowe told the urban county council in March the main goal is to reduce crime, locate and recover missing or endangered people.
“We believe it will have an effect on all crime in the city,” said Lowe.
The city will get the cameras at no cost for the year in exchange for their partnership with Flock Safety, Axon Enterprise, and the National Police Foundation for a nationwide study.
The cameras take 6-7 still images of cars as they pass but do not take video. They can read plates, determine the color, make and type of cars, which would all be searchable by police.
Police say they will not be used to enforce traffic violations like speed limits or red lights. The photos are stored for 30 days and then deleted.
Vehicles will automatically be checked to see if they are on a hotlist, and law enforcement is notified. However, Lowe told the council vehicles and plates cannot be searched without first entering a reason for the search. He added, even when a suspected vehicle is located, officers are advised to use reasonable suspicion and probable cause to confirm the validity of making a stop.
Some residents believe it will make the city safer.
“It can make things a lot safer and easier for criminals to be apprehended,” said Lexington Resident Ralph Carr.
Others have reservations about how it will be implemented and how privacy will be protected.
The Lexington branch of the NAACP was invited to a meeting about the program with the ACLU, and initially, former president Jim Thurman said they had some concerns.
“We were voicing our concerns, and we made sure that those concerns were known,” said Carr.
One of those concerns was about where the cameras would be placed. The locations are undisclosed, but law enforcement says spots were determined based on analyzing two years of violent crime data in the city.
Thurman says after discussion, they’re comfortable with the department's intentions.
“If as long as it's used as advertised and the safeguards are there as far as being able to access the information and that is not to be used to enforce law, traffic laws and things like that. I'm very comfortable with it,” said Thurman.
If Lexington police keep the cameras after the program ends, their list price is $2,500 for the camera system and $250 for the installation for each unit.
Flock safety was founded in Atlanta and currently works with more than 850 different law enforcement agencies.
Cities other than Lexington that have them are Owensboro, Hopkinsville, Madisonville, Middleton, and soon Louisville.
We reached out to LPD but have not yet received a response.