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Austin City Council set to postpone decision on license plate readers

The council plans to talk about the proposal in two weeks.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin City Council is set to postpone an item on the agenda from its meeting Thursday that has sparked debate for and against a proposed plan.

The council pulled Item 90, which ordered the city manager to produce funding to reinstate the license plate reader program at the Austin Police Department and include it in the upcoming fiscal year's budget. 

Councilmember Mackenzie Kelly and leaders with the police department are pushing to bring back license plate readers, which are cameras that take photos of license plates. 

They capture the make, model and color of a vehicle along with the time and location. The data is then stored in a database. The resolution proposed holding that data for 30 days, saying it would only be used for criminal investigations. 

APD used them from 2016 to 2020 but were removed when the city "reimagined" the police department. Now they're looking to bring them back. 

The head of the Austin police union said the department is down more than 260 officers and that the readers help combat crime. In one case, this kind of camera helped find a kidnapped 2-year-old child from San Antonio. In other cases, it helped find stolen cars. 

RELATED: Austin police pushing to reactivate license plate readers amid staff shortage, but there are concerns

APD Chief Joe Chacon said the technology could help the department a lot right now. 

"We need these types of tools and given our staffing, it's important for us to leverage technology and to be able to use it to be more effective in solving crime, especially violent crime," Chacon said.

While the council heard from residents speaking for the policy, it also heard from plenty of residents against the proposal. 

Critics have pointed out flaws in the system, particularly regarding privacy. They said it could allow police to unfairly target minorities and track people's movements. 

The council postponed the discussion for two weeks. If the council decides to reinstate the program, leaders say the cameras would be subject to audits four times a year. 

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