University of Colorado Boulder police start publishing license plate reader data

Police at the University of Colorado Boulder have begun publishing statistics that reveal how they're using license plate readers installed around campus.
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The University of Colorado Boulder on Tuesday announced that its police department is now publishing statistics on a new public dashboard reflecting its use of 11 cameras installed around campus.

The new website shows that the cameras, devices from Flock Safety that the department announced last summer, have detected more than 130,000 vehicles over the past 30 days, resulting in 621 hits on “hotlists,” registries of warrants, missing people or vehicles reported stolen or associated with other crimes.

Flock Safety is best known for its license plate reader devices, which are used by police departments around the country to automatically scan public roadways for vehicles that match those on lists maintained by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Crime Information Center.

“We are excited to be able to share this information with the community,” Assistant Vice Chancellor for Public Safety and Chief of Police Doreen Jokerst said in a press release. “From the moment we put the cameras up, we were interested in how this technology could help strengthen our proactive investigations. Now we can show the public some of the information that’s helping us solve crimes.”


The university, which enrolls about 33,000 students, announced last summer that it had adopted the cameras to capture still images of vehicles and license plates, but not drivers, as they enter campus. The campus claims the cameras don’t use facial recognition technology and will not be used as automated red-light cameras, but rather an investigative tool to help find wanted or missing people or to solve crimes.

“When the camera identifies a match with a plate in a law enforcement database, it sends a notification to CUPD emergency dispatchers, who can make officers aware of the vehicle’s location,” the university’s announcement read. “This enhances officers’ ability to intervene quickly in investigating auto theft, domestic violence, stalking or other crimes.”

While some local police departments that use Flock Safety’s license plate readers in other parts of the country have reported that the technology helps solve crimes, the devices have also raised the suspicions of civil rights advocates. The American Civil Liberties Union recommends communities reject the adoption of Flock Safety products on the grounds that the company hasn’t agreed to independent reviews of its technology.

“Communities and city councils should not adopt new technology that has not been subject to testing and evaluation by an independent, disinterested party,” ACLU Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley wrote in March. “That’s true for all types of technology, but doubly so for technologies that have the potential to change the balance of power between the government and the governed, like surveillance equipment.”

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