Missouri police seek to keep license plate readers out of red-light camera ban bill

Legislation would prevent any municipalities from authorizing an automated traffic enforcement system to find a motor vehicle or its operator is violating traffic signals, speeds, laws, ordinances, rules or regulations.
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LicensePlateReader
A license plate reader in California.
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Language in a bill to ban red-light cameras brought law enforcement officials from throughout Missouri to the capital to testify against the legislation.

Law enforcement from Jefferson County, St. Louis County, the City of St. Louis, Kansas City, the Missouri Police Chiefs and the Fraternal Order of Police pleaded with legislators to preserve the ability to use license plate readers (LPR) to assist in solving crimes.

“The intent of this bill was not to completely prohibit the use of that technology, although I do believe the current wording may have that effect,” said Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-St. Charles and sponsor of House Bill 2705, during a Downsizing State Government Committee hearing on April 13. “We’re going to have to make some changes there.”

The bill would prevent any political subdivision from authorizing an automated traffic enforcement system to find a motor vehicle or its operator is violating traffic signals, speeds, laws, ordinances, rules or regulations. Lovasco told the committee most municipalities abandoned red-light cameras after a 2015 Missouri Supreme Court ruling. In two opinions, the court found speed and red-light cameras unconstitutional. However, Lovasco stated a need to properly manage data and records.

“We don’t want to have a system where there’s a wide dragnet of information being collected and indefinitely retained,” Lovasco said. “Even if our local groups are good about using that responsibly, we all know the federal government loves to get their fingers in large databases of information.”

Several members of the law enforcement delegation stated their appreciation for Lovasco’s willingness to change the bill’s language.

“We’re not really here to talk about the red-light camera but we want to make sure the LPRs are looked at,” said Robert Shockey of the Missouri Police Chiefs Association. “We appreciate the openness to look at the wording. They’re not only used for crimes. They’re also used for missing persons and amber alerts. They’re an important tool for police departments.”

Other law enforcement officials gave examples of how many heinous crimes were solved by the camera technology. While most didn’t comment on using cameras for traffic enforcement, Brad Thielemier of the Missouri State Troopers endorsed it.

“We feel traffic enforcement needs to be done by an officer to deter behavior,” Thielemier said. “Getting a ticket in the mail doesn’t deter behavior.”

Lovasco closed the hearing by expressing appreciation to those who testified.

“If everyone in this building would read bills as closely as the people in this room, I think the people of Missouri would be in a lot better shape,” Lovasco said. “I have to say I’ve never had more people testify against one of my bills in a more reasonable manner. I think we’re all going to like how this is going to end up because I think we’re all on the same page.”

The bill was voted out of the committee 7-3 on Wednesday and referred to the Rules and Administrative Oversight Committee.