DeKalb County Board OKs contract with Sycamore for police license plate readers along Peace Road

DeKalb County Board member Rhonda Henke, a Republican from District 1, holds her face while deliberating her vote regarding an intergovernmental agreement between DeKalb County and the city of Sycamore for the mounting of license plate readers on utility poles on county owned land. The agreement was passed by the County Board in a 16-7 vote on March 15, 2023.

SYCAMORE – After an initial vote was shelved, the DeKalb County Board this week approved a contract with the city of Sycamore for police to install license plate reader devices on county-owned traffic signal poles along Peace Road.

The installation for the license plate readers is meant to aid police investigations and allow for law enforcement to monitor traffic coming in and out of Sycamore for cases such as missing persons, car theft or crime tips, police officials have said. The cameras do no record a live feed, Sycamore Police Chief Jim Winters has said.

Winters told county officials that Sycamore police will start by retaining data collected by the license plate readers for 30 days, a length of time he said was the minimum required to make the data useful.

“Most departments store for 90 [days], some store for an unlimited amount of time,” Winters said March 8. “I think DeKalb stores for 90 but we chose to do it for 30 days.”

The 16-7 vote Wednesday to approve the agreement came after the County Board sent the initial request back to its Executive Committee for further review last month. The Sycamore City Council had already approved the intergovernmental agreement.

Winters has previously said license plate readers cannot be streamed on the internet, do not have facial recognition technology and most images captured from the equipment only show the back of a car where the license plate is.

“I do believe there are measures in place, this technology is very common. I mean for years the [Interstate 88] tollway has it, has had the technology and all your cars – if you’ve driven on the tollway – it’s the same technology. ... The image is captured and then it falls off the system.”

—  Sycamore police chief Jim Winters on license plate readers

Despite Winters’ assurances the license plate readers would help the department catch criminals, some board members including Democrats and Republicans voted against the agreement.

Tim Bagby, a Republican representing District 3, was one of seven board members to oppose the request. In an interview after the Wednesday vote, Bagby said he’s not a fan of more cameras around town.

“It’s there for law enforcement and public safety purposes, supposedly, but in the list of things that they’ve said they are looking for are things like expired plates or expired registration and stuff like that, which doesn’t seem to me to have anything to do directly with public safety,” Bagby said. “And I’m a little bit concerned that we could start monetizing, if you will, those cameras for purposes other than catching the Amber Alert.”

According to county documents, Winters submitted a new request March 1 that expanded the request the County Board considered in February. The initial request sought to place license plate readers on existing traffic signals within DeKalb County’s right-of-way at the southwest corner of the Peace Road and Mercantile Drive and the southwest corner of the Peace Road and Puri Drive intersections.

The March 1 request included those two locations as well as three others, on poles proposed to be installed by the city of Sycamore within the county’s right-of-way, documents show. Those proposed poles will stand on the south side of Peace Road, west of the Peace Road and Illinois Route 23 intersection to read eastbound traffic; on the north side of Plank Road, east of the Plank Road and Route 23 intersection to read westbound traffic and the east side of Peace Road, at the intersection of Peace and Bethany Roads to read northbound traffic.

The corner of Peace Road and Puri Drive, where Sycamore officials had hoped to be able to install license plate readers to DeKalb County owned utility poles. Picture taken Feb. 21, 2023.

The proposal for three additional poles also requires approval from the DeKalb County Highway Department. License plate reader installation can move forward along Peace Road, however.

County Board Vice Chairman John Frieders, a Republican from District 12 who voted against the initial agreement in February and on Wednesday, said he has concerns about people being tracked by government agencies.

In response, Winters equated the devices to how the Illinois tollway tracks motorists.

“I do believe there are measures in place, this technology is very common,” Winters said. “I mean for years the [Interstate 88] tollway has it, has had the technology and all your cars – if you’ve driven on the tollway – it’s the same technology. ... The image is captured and then it falls off the system.”

Sycamore Police Chief Jim Winters addresses the Sycamore City Council on  Oct. 17, 2022 when he presents the Sycamore Police Department's five-year plan.

Patrick Deutsch, a Republican from District 2, voted in favor of the agreement following February comments he made in support of the devices which could be used to aid missing persons searches.

Board members Jerry Osland, a Republican from District 12, Roy Plote, a Republican from District 11, Chris Porterfield, a Democrat from District 8 and Amber Quitno, a Democrat from District 3 also voted against the Sycamore contract.

Scott Campbell, a Democrat from District 7, who also opposed the agreement, said he’s concerned about access of data captured by the license plate readers.

“I’m concerned about who might have access to the data, what agencies and entities might be able to see those license plates for the 30 days they’re being stored on file,” Campbell said Wednesday. “And I feel that if the county is going to participate in this then the county should effect a policy of it’s own and make sure this is consistent with it and give county residents an opportunity to weigh in, and we didn’t do that.”

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