Block Kenosha's "ALPR Grant"

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The Kenosha Police Department plans to use a $49,000 state grant that the department received last year to purchase two Automatic License Plate Readers- one fixed camera and one mobile camera-to be used with enhanced recognition software.  The five year contract will be with a private entity called Vigilant Solutions which will cover both the hardware and software.  A quick search on Vigilant Solutions lead to hours of research on the company itself and brought up very concerning issues, especially for me as a journalist when it comes to accessing information for the public’s interest.

The company has taken nearly 3 billion license plate photos to date.  Each month, it captures and permanently stores about 80 million additional geo-tagged images.  Vigilant Solutions profits by selling access to this data, to law enforcement agencies and private entities across the country.  This means, your diminished privacy is their product.  They advertise this technology to law enforcement as a much-needed modern upgrade.  Vigilant has been incentivizing local police departments to focus on debt collection.  Free Vigilant technology would alert police when people with pending court fines drive by.  After they pulled the driver over, they could offer two choices: Go to jail, or pay the fine, plus a 25% “processing fee” that Vigilant largely pockets.  This same technology has specifically been used to target Black and Brown motorists who owed cities money.  Contracts with Vigilant can also allow them to act as a collection agency, sending out notices to drivers based on the data they receive from law enforcement agencies.  Some county’s contracts with Vigilant have recently been upgraded to allow the company to use its own private contractors to collect on capias warrants.  Vigilant tries to keep as much information about data sharing under wraps by forcing purchasers to sign restrictive non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements.  Sorry council members and residents, sounds like you won’t be getting answers to exactly what this contract will cover.  Where’s Ed Snowden when you need him to expose corruption?  What’s even more concerning with their contracts with government bodies is that it prohibits the agencies from talking about Vigilant with the press without the company’s permission.  Vigilant has taken a hardline approach to negative press, threatening journalists with lawsuits for asking too many questions and publishing the answers they’ve received.  It leaves to question if those parts of the contracts are consistent with transparency and freedom of information laws.  Policy makers and the public are unable to effectively evaluate the technology since the contract prohibits police from speaking honestly and openly about the program.  The model relies on debt, so there’s no incentive for criminal justice leaders to work with the community to reduce the number of capias warrants, since that could result in losing the equipment.

Local communities often turn to license plate readers thinking that they will protect their community from crime.  Community members believe they need increased surveillance in order to be safe which is most often based on an irrational “fear of crime”.  Police could now receive alerts about a car’s movements in real time and review past movements at the touch of a button.  ALPRs could prove valuable in police investigations and for non-law enforcement uses like helping government agencies reduce traffic and curb environmental pollution.  The readers, which can be mounted on stationary poles, moving police cruisers, and even handheld devices, log the time and date of each scan, the vehicle’s GPS coordinates, and pictures of the car.  Some versions can also snap pictures of a vehicles occupants and create unique vehicle IDs.  The devices send the data to ALPR software, which can compare each plate against a designated “hot list”.  Such lists can include stolen cars (KPDs alleged purpose) and cars associated with AMBER Alerts for abducted children.  They can also reference vehicles that are listed in local and federal databases for reasons that may include unpaid parking tickets or inclusion in gang databases.  These queries happen automatically, though officers can also query plates manually. 

The tracking of people’s location constitutes a significant invasion of privacy, which can reveal many things about their lives, such as what friends, doctors, protests, political events, or churches a person may visit.  The mere fact that your car passes a stop sign at a particular time of day may not seem like invasive information.  But you can actually tell a lot of personal information about a person by learning their daily routines- and when they deviate from those routines.  ALPR cameras give law enforcement the ability to learn the comings and goings of every car, effectively making it impossible for drivers to protect their privacy.  Not convinced yet?  ALPRs could read and collect the license plate numbers of vehicles parked at addiction counseling meetings, doctor’s offices, health clinics, or even staging areas for political protests, and therefore can have a chilling effect on social and political activities.  Some of the technology installed in ALPR systems can automatically flag cars that look a certain way- from rusted vehicles to cars with dents or poor paint jobs.  These “vehicle fingerprints” might flag, not just a particular plate but a Green Toyota Corolla with damage on the passenger side door and a Michigan license plate from Detroit.  Some ALPRs are even designed to search for certain bumper stickers, which could reveal information on the political or social views of the driver.  This leaves a serious margin for more crime when we take into consideration domestic related cases, stalking, and the current doxxing that is going on throughout the country.

Sign This Petition To Block This Grant.  Call/Email Your Mayor/Alderman/Police Chief/Police & Fire Commission- Tell Them NO!!!!