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Austin City Council votes to reinstate license plate reader program

Despite the privacy concerns some have about these cameras, APD said they'll help the department solve crimes as it deals with ongoing staffing shortages.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin City Council voted to reinstate the Austin Police Department's license plate reader program on Thursday.

Those are cameras that take photos of license plates and store them in a database. The program reportedly helps police find out if someone is driving a vehicle that's connected to a crime. 

APD will be able to store that data for 30 days. An amendment to change the storage time and allow the department to retain data for three minutes instead of the 30 days was voted on and failed with a narrow 5-6 vote. 

Despite the privacy concerns that some have about these cameras, APD said they'll help the department solve crimes as it deals with ongoing staffing shortages. 

The cameras will be subject to audits four times a year. The approval comes with funding in the amount of nearly $115,000 for the program in fiscal year 2021-22 and additional funding for the next fiscal year.

A resolution on the matter also orders the city manager to re-evaluate the police department's former policy and procedures on license plate readers and work with the Office of Police Oversight to coordinate at least two community input sessions related to the policy.

The decision came after the council postponed the item early this month to further study the program. 

APD used license plate readers from 2016 to 2020 but were then removed when they City "reimagined" the police department. APD Chief Joe Chacon said that, in the past, when the program was in place, there were no problems with officers or staff improperly accessing data. 

While the topic has been a hot one in Central Texas, the Round Rock City Council authorized the installation and use of 30 such cameras last week. Buda's city council held off on approving the program back in May.

Read the full resolution here.

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