Automated License Plate Readers

The Wheaton Police Department is starting to use Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) as a tool to assist in identifying vehicles driven by people suspected of criminal activity, and locating vehicles associated with missing persons, Amber Alerts or individuals in crisis. This technology supports the City Council's Community Safety Strategic Priority, prioritizing the health, safety and welfare of our community. 

Below are some answers to questions you may have about this technology and how the Wheaton Police Department will use it. 

Flock Camera busy street

What are Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR)? 

Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR) are a high-resolution digital camera with an infrared filter to capture images of vehicle registrations. As vehicles pass through the field of view of the ALPR camera, a picture of the rear of the vehicle is taken, including the license plate. 

These images only capture: 

  • vehicle registration
  • vehicle make and color, and 
  • time the vehicle was at the location of the fixed camera. 

It is a resource to recognize license plate information and other facts about a vehicle, not the occupants. The technology is not connected to personal identifying information, is not capable of facial recognition, or used for traffic enforcement similar to a red-light camera. These license plate readers DO NOT capture video, record speed, enforce traffic or parking violations, or track people. They only take photographs of license plates and vehicles. 

Why is the Police Department using Automated License Place Readers (ALPRs)?

Seventy percent of all crimes committed involve an automobile, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Locally, almost two-thirds of all arrestees resided outside of the City of Wheaton. This data confirms the majority of crimes committed in Wheaton are conducted by non-residents coming into our city to conduct criminal activity. To mitigate this impact, the City of Wheaton is installing Automatic License Plate Readers throughout the City. 

officer using flock

How will the cameras be used?

License plate numbers give law enforcement objective, actionable leads needed to solve crimes. This information will assist the Wheaton Police Department in identifying license plates associated with missing persons, amber alerts, people in crisis, and felonious vehicles involved in criminal activity. ALPRs will be utilized as a resource for a retroactive search to help solve crimes after they have occurred. 

How long is the data retained and is it secure?

The City of Wheaton owns the footage associated with ALPRs and the data is fully encrypted. None of the data collected by the ALPRs will be sold or shared to any third-party entities outside of law enforcement. Any data that is collected by the plate readers will be deleted after 30 days if the registration is not part of an active investigation. Once deleted, the data is no longer accessible. 

The cameras use cellular signals and there is no incoming connection to the camera, so any data that is actually on the camera itself is fully encrypted at all times. The data is encrypted in transit when it is being sent to the cloud and Amazon AWS government cloud storage will be used and all data is encrypted at rest in the cloud.

What is required for an officer to conduct a data search?

The Wheaton Police Department has a strict department order outlining the retrieval of data from the system and its subsequent application. Any time an officer conducts a search in the database, they are required to enter an event number or case number per department policy. Additionally, the officer is required to provide the reason for why they are conducting the search. Each individual officer will have their own login, so we can audit each of the officer’s activities as they access the database.

Will ALPR cameras be used for traffic or immigration enforcement?

The Wheaton Police Department will not share any of the data with any federal immigration agencies at all. Additionally, the technology for either traffic or immigration enforcement is not built into the solution. This is by design based on the fundamental beliefs that the City of Wheaton can leverage technology that is effective for law enforcement to help solve and prevent crimes, while at the same time protecting the privacy and rights of all people.