Tag Readers Are Here to Stay
One city in Cobb County is leading the way for what may change the way motorist offenders drive in Metro Atlanta, so Car Thieves, Beware: You may not want to drive through Austell or any of Cobb County city where those cities own the New 'Car Tag Readers.'
Austell City Council has approved spending almost $24,000 for one of these devices, plus an annual subscription service of $1,500 a year to maintain the reader's three cameras. The device alerts police if a tag is expired, stolen or registered to somebody wanted by authorities.
"It's a pretty good system," said Joe Jerkins, Mayor of Austell. "One officer had it on his car for 30 days and got a lot of response out of it. He made lots of arrests with it, and the city will recoup the cost of the reader from fines collected, using it for things such as outstanding traffic warrants." And if car tag readers pick up serious offenders, it's icing on the cake.
Acworth was the first Cobb County city to purchase the tag reader about four years ago, and it recently purchased a second one this year, according to Police Capt. Mark Cheatham. He advised that the city uses the devices to check for stolen cars and stolen license plates, and for people driving without insurance.
In one instance, Cheatham said, the reader helped identify suspects involved in an armed robbery. He added that the police department can also program these readers with their own 'internal hit list,' which will allow the system to sound an alert if an officer happens to pass a suspect vehicle on the road, that they've been looking for.
Cheatham stated that 'police won't just intentionally go out looking for people, and that 99% of the time, the system won't tell us things about random cars driving down the street.' But once the reader alerts police to a possible suspect, officers will do a 'live check' with dispatch to run an up-to-the-second update about a certain tag or person. We don't stop people or arrest people based on just anything, but on what the computer tells us about that tag. It's then verified through normal means, looking up info with the Georgia Crime Information Center.
Although all of this sounds great for getting these offenders off the street, says former US Rep. Bob Barr. He thinks the readers are an invasion of privacy and that they will collect every license plate that they scan and place them into a database which will then track people without their knowledge or probable cause. Although Barr was told that officers such as Cheatham have stated repeatedly said they will not target people, he says he doesn't believe that, because 'it just doesn't make any sense for them to collect the info and not do anything with it.'
Barr further stated that he believes citizens should urge their city council members against installing these scanners, but that government agencies aren't likely to be swayed by constituents, because of the federal money attached to the equipment, and that most cities will want the government money. Officer David Baldwin, with the Marietta Police Department, acknowledged that the data collected by his city's readers is and will be stored, but said that the only time information is accessed is when his department is looking for a specific car involved in a specific crime and that car fits that description.
Jerkins and Cheatham both said that they do not believe the use of the readers is invasive. 'It's a public tag number. And all they're looking at is that tag number,' Jerkins said. Cheatham said that all recordings are subject to the Georgia state open records law, and that his department complies with those requests. 'It's just another tool for us to use to get the bad guys off the street,' he said.
Beware Georgia Motorists: It's Just a Matter of Time. Other Counties Will Have these Tag Readers soon!