SYCAMORE – The city of Sycamore wants to install devices on two county-owned traffic signal poles on Peace Road that would read vehicle license plates traveling to and from the city for what police said would aid investigations.
When faced with the proposal, however, the DeKalb County Board stalled an expected vote at its recent meeting. Instead of voting whether to approve or not, Board members decided to send the proposal – which had already been approved by the Sycamore City Council – back to its executive committee for further review. The plan had been proposed under an intergovernmental agreement with Sycamore and the county, since the devices would be city-owned but on county-owned land.
No decision has yet been made.
“My thing is just because we have the technology to do something doesn’t mean we should necessarily do it,” DeKalb County Board Vice Chairman John Frieders, a Republican from District 12, said during the Feb. 15 Board meeting.
The license plate readers were proposed to be mounted on traffic signal poles along the west side of Peace Road at the southwest corner of the intersection with Mercantile Drive and on the west side of Peace Road at the southwest corner of the intersection with Puri Drive.
If approved, both license plate readers would scan southbound traffic.
Sycamore Police Chief Jim Winters attended the recent County Board meeting to explain why Sycamore asked for the county’s permission to mount license plate readers at those two locations.
The Sycamore Police Department won City Council approval earlier this month to install the solar-powered license plate readers. Winters said the two county-owned poles would allow his department to monitor license plates as vehicles enter and leave Sycamore city limits at high volume traffic locations.
Some DeKalb County Board members who voted against the proposal voiced concerns that the license plate readers could contribute to police racial profiling or tracking residents’ whereabouts.
Winters said he believes those concerns were unfounded because the equipment does not work like a typical camera.
“The camera takes a picture of a license plate. Most of the time the images that I see is the back of the car, so you can’t tell who’s in the car, what race they are, what sex they are, what age they are,” Winters said. “How the officers use that, you would have every expectation of using that in a professional manner, and they were using it for law enforcement purposes only.”
Other Board members asked about the type of images captured on license plate readers, and how the data is stored. Winters said data that would be subject to public records request would not include personal information under Freedom of Information Act exemptions.
“License plate readers, sometimes it might be easier to tell you what they are not. They’re not live cameras,” Winters said. “So they’re not streaming like maybe a security camera, or someone taking a video or a body camera. They do not capture people’s images. ... They don’t capture faces, they don’t have facial recognition, 98, 85, 99 percent of the pictures are of the back of the car with the license plate. It’s literally like someone, an officer, or a person standing on the side of the road writing down a license plate.”
Winters said police were able to utilize license plate readers recently during a stolen car investigation. Winters said a car was reported stolen in Sycamore and a license plate reader in Rockford picked it up.
“We didn’t apprehend those individuals but we were able to recover that car a lot faster,” Winters said.
He said another recent involved a license plate reader in DeKalb: A Sycamore police officer stopped pursuing another vehicle after Winters said the officer determined they could not safely continue chasing it into DeKalb. DeKalb police assisted by identifying the car through a license plate reader in the city, Winters said.
Winters said he hoped the data captured by the readers – which would be retained for 30 days via a cloud-based storage system – would help his department identify cars associated with crimes when they enter Sycamore city limits.
If the intergovernmental agreement is approved, the city of Sycamore has agreed to pay all costs associated with installation, maintenance and operation of the license plate readers.
The devices, Winters said, also would help Sycamore police respond to America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) alerts.
County Board member Patrick Deutsch, a Republican from District 2, said improving the ability of Sycamore police to find a vehicle associated with an AMBER alert was something he wanted put ahead of other concerns by County Board members.
“Recovery of stolen items, or the apprehension of a criminal is one thing,” said Deutsch, who also chairs the DeKalb County Highway Committee. “The possibility of catching someone in an AMBER alert, just – if my kid were kidnapped I would be devastated. That would be the main reason for me to vote for this.”
This article has been edited to correct an incorrect headline about the DeKalb County Board’s action taken on a Sycamore plan to place police license plate readers on county-owned utility poles. The Board sent the proposal back to its executive committee for further review. No decision has yet been made.