- The Chicago Police Department (CPD) is halfway to its goal of adding to its fleet 200 new police vehicles equipped with automated license plate reader (LPR) technology.
- CPD added 100 LPR vehicles in January and February, and it will add another 50 both this month and next. Once the expansion is complete this spring, the police force will have 244 LPR vehicles in addition to its 126 pole-mounted LPRs.
- LPR technology automatically scans vehicles' license plates and checks them against the list of stolen vehicles that is updated daily, and the system automatically notifies an officer if it finds a match. The city says LPRs help officers combat vehicle thefts and carjackings.
The city says vehicle thefts in Chicago are at their lowest levels since 2000, in part due to the LPR technology. Overall crime in Chicago fell 9.5% last year, according to an annual urban crime report from the Brennan Center for Justice.
LPRs greatly increase officers' ability to spot stolen vehicles. The technology's ability to automatically scan nearby license plates and check the system isn't possible for humans to do while still performing other job duties, especially not at the speed computers can do the task. Chicago's program expansion will ensure every police district has at least six LPR-enabled vehicles in its fleet.
Despite the benefits of the tool, citizen privacy and civil rights advocates, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), criticize LPR technology for collecting too much sensitive information and storing it in databases. They also say the technology gathers information about innocent citizens that has nothing to do with any crimes, and it is "becoming a tool for mass routine location tracking and surveillance." The ACLU and others would like stricter legislation and law enforcement agency policies governing LPR privacy principles. It's a similar argument that advocacy groups have made against cities using facial recognition technology.
A joint statement from the city and CPD says that the technology is "at the heart of effective modern policing and a core component of the City’s public safety strategy."
The city has made significant investments in police technology over the past few years. It has equipped all 7,000 patrol officers with body cameras and has ShotSpotter, technology that detects gunfire through sensors placed throughout a community and alerts police to the location where a shot is fired. Last year CPD announced it had expanded its smart policing strategies, including predictive technologies, to more districts.