Would you be surprised to hear that the City of Buffalo and its police department have more than 100 high-tech cameras installed around the city that are used to track vehicles as they travel around the city limits and potentially keep that data on file for a year or more?

If you answered yes to that question, you aren't the only one who's surprised, and thanks to some great news work by Investigative Post, we know a whole lot more about a program that the BPD has in effect using stationary license plate readers, which has been in effect for a while, but somehow failed to inform the public about.

What Are License Plate Readers and How Are They Used?

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), Automatic License Plate Readers are devices that can be mounted on police cars or fixed on poles or on the roadside to scan the license plates of all cars passing by. These readers capture, at minimum, the license plate number of a car as well as its date, time and location.

How Does Buffalo Use Its License Plate Readers?

When data is collected by these readers, it is stored in a computer system that is run by the BPD. According to a Freedom of Information Law request filed by Investigative Post, the data is stored for a year and can only be used for law enforcement purposes. Exactly what those purposes are is unclear because city officials also noted that the Buffalo Police Department does not have an official policy that controls how the devices are used.

According to the Investigative Post story, the city has 104 readers installed around the city, which are not equally distributed amongst the different city neighborhoods.

  • Downtown has seven cameras,
  • North Buffalo has 18 cameras,
  • South Buffalo has seven cameras,
  • the Lower West Side has 13 cameras, and
  • the East Side has 59 cameras.

In the section of North Buffalo where I live, cameras only cover one intersection, and there aren't any other cameras for several miles in any direction. The fact that a vast majority of the cameras are on Buffalo's east side has some people calling foul.

The information uncovered by Investigative Post is really interesting, and detailed. You can find their entire report here.

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