Have you noticed police cars with a pair of chunky accessories mounted on their trunk? These devices are a type of camera used for a license plate reader (LPR) system. In some places, unmarked cars used by bank repossession officers use the same system. Some people are concerned about privacy issues created by these automated license plate readers. For this reason, scanners on police cars have not always been legal.

What are the scanners on police cars?

If you see two large scanner cameras on the trunk of a police car or the roof of a police SUV, they are likely part of an automated license plate reading system. These scanners snap pictures of every license plate nearby, and a computer in the car looks up the vehicle’s registration.

car safety, cars

Automatic license plate reader on police car | Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The most advanced systems can scan and research 1,800 plates a minute–even reading the tags on cars racing by at up to 150 mph. The system snaps bursts of photos of traffic that is passing a parked cruiser. It can also snap photos of parked traffic while the police cruiser is moving.

The system then checks all of these license plate numbers against local, state, and even federal databases. It can run in the background while the officer is doing other tasks. If it finds a plate of interest, it warns the police officer with an audible warning and a notification on their computer.

How do police use license plate reader systems?

License plate reader systems can notify police officers if any car has a registration issue or an All-points Bulletin (APB) attached to its tag number. Some departments also pull over cars if the registered owner has an issue such as a suspended driver’s license.

car safety, cars

Automatic license plate reader on police car | Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group via Getty Images

The Denver Police Department uses its License Plate Readers (LPR) to enforce many laws. But Officer Jared Purdy admits that of LPR-initiated stops, “The majority of them are those driver’s license restraints.”

See how the Denver Police Department use its LPRs in the video below:

Where are license plate readers allowed?

For many years New Hampshire forbid its police from using license plate readers. But a 2016 law overruled this. Now Maine is the only state with laws governing LPR use–according to the ACLU–but these laws do not prohibit LPRs completely. LPRs are allowed in all 50 states.

car safety, cars

Automatic license plate reader on police car | Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group via Getty Images

Even some non-police groups have begun leveraging LPR technology. Banks employ repossession agencies to take back cars if its driver misses payments. Some of these repo agencies have begun using LPRs, even mounted on unmarked sedans, to speed up the search for wanted vehicles.

Learn more about how repo agents use license plate readers in the FOX News video below:

Not everyone is alright with police and repo officers using LPRs, with no regulations. The ACLU is demanding the following five changes to LPR laws:

  • “License plate readers may be used by law enforcement agencies only.”
  • “The government must not store data about innocent people.”
  • “People should be able to find out if plate data of vehicles registered to them are contained in a law enforcement agency’s database.”
  • “Law enforcement agencies should not share license plate reader data.”
  • “Any entity that uses license plate readers should be required to report its usage.”

Next, learn which states allow unmarked police cars to pull you over.

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