It was big news in Western New York when we all learned about a program run by the Buffalo Police Department that uses more than 100 automatic license plate readers spread throughout the city to track cars and their movements around town.

That program, which we're not exactly sure how the Buffalo Police are using because they don't have a documented official policy on its use, has been in effect for a while. Still, city officials did not disclose to residents that it was in effect or how the data they collected was being used.

Several other municipalities in the 716 use these automatic license plate readers, including Buffalo's direct neighbor to the east, Cheektowaga.

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.

Cheektowaga, New York, Also Uses License Plate Readers

Earlier this month, the Town of Cheektowaga also installed a series of plate readers at various locations throughout the town. In an interview with WIVB-TV, Cheektowaga Police Chief Brian Gould noted that the cameras will be a useful tool in fighting crime.

If there’s a suspect that we know is using a vehicle, we can put that into the system and we will get an alert if that vehicle comes in. One of the cases where that’s been successful is for some of our organized retail theft...
-Brian Gould, Chief of Police, Cheektowaga, NY

Like the cameras installed in Buffalo, as you drive through the streets of Cheektowaga, they will snap a photo of your car and license plate. That data will be saved in a searchable database that the Town of Cheektowaga will maintain. Unlike Buffalo, which is going to keep track of you for a year, Cheektowaga has pledged only to keep the data on file for 30 days.

If I’ve got a Flock camera nearby, I can go and put a time frame in and search for all white pickup trucks that drove by and then get pictures and license plates...
-Brian Gould, Chief of Police, Cheektowaga, NY

In addition to the City of Buffalo and the Town of Cheektowaga, the Niagara County Sheriff's Office announced earlier this year they have installed 67 of these cameras throughout Niagara County.

Hopefully, our local law enforcement offices will only use these devices for good and not to invade residents' privacy.

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