Po­lice split on shar­ing data with ICE

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Ken Dixon

Po­lice on Thurs­day dis­cov­ered the Vir­ginia-based data­base that hosts much of the na­tion’s li­cense plate recog­ni­tion sys­tems is avail­able to Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment of­fi­cials, as re­ported ear­lier in the week by the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union.

Po­lice of­fi­cials in West­port and Fair­field said they do not use the sys­tem to spy on res­i­dents, or even record peo­ple’s race or eth­nic­ity, as al­leged by the ACLU re­port. They con­tinue to keep us­ing the sys­tem.

But Wethers­field Po­lice Chief James Ce­tran said af­ter learn­ing there was an op­tion to share the in­for­ma­tion with ICE, he with­drew his town with a click of a com­puter mouse.

“I have no prob­lem shar­ing our data with other po­lice de­part­ments,” Ce­tran said in a phone in­ter­view. “We can uncheck those that we don’t want to share with.” Ce­tran no­ticed ICE was listed as re­ceiv­ing his town’s data, con­firm­ing the ACLU re­port. “Although I know it’s per­fectly le­gal, for po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency, we are no longer shar­ing with them. It was my dis­cre­tion.”

Ce­tran, pres­i­dent of the Con­necti­cut

Po­lice Chiefs As­so­ci­a­tion, said the group is al­low­ing lo­cal po­lice de­part­ments to de­cide for them­selves whether to re­move ICE’s ac­cess to their data.

Eight law en­force­ment en­ti­ties were listed by the ACLU as hav­ing re­la­tion­ships with ICE, in­clud­ing Fair­field, West­port, Strat­ford, Nor­walk, Trum­bull and South­ern Con­necti­cut State Univer­sity.

West­port of­fi­cials said Thurs­day the firm Vig­i­lant So­lu­tions Inc. makes the town’s li­cense plate reader data avail­able to 500 other law en­force­ment agen­cies.

“The LPR sys­tem in no way pro­vides the of­fi­cer in­for­ma­tion as to the im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus, race, gen­der, sex, name of the per­son

op­er­at­ing the ve­hi­cle, or the owner in­for­ma­tion of the ve­hi­cle, nor does it record any of this in­for­ma­tion,” said West­port Po­lice Chief Foti Koski­nas in a state­ment. “Vig­i­lant So­lu­tions, the ven­dor from whom we pur­chased the sys­tem and with whom we have a con­tract, man­ages and stores the min­i­mal data col­lected.”

He said the data has a proven record in help­ing fight crime, and the town is con­fi­dent that fed­eral com­pli­ance stan­dards are be­ing met.

“We al­ways at­tempt to bal­ance the safety of of­fi­cers and cit­i­zens with pri­vacy. In­for­ma­tion shar­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion amongst law en­force­ment agen­cies is crit­i­cal to that safety,” Koski­nas said.

Fair­field Capt. Robert Kala­ma­ras agreed.

“The Fair­field Po­lice

De­part­ment cur­rently owns and op­er­ates Li­cense Plate Reader tech­nol­ogy which data is man­aged and stored by Vig­i­lant So­lu­tions,” he said in a state­ment. “These devices have served hun­dreds of po­lice agen­cies across the United States, in­clud­ing Fair­field, to en­sure the safety and se­cu­rity of our cit­i­zens. While there has been some scru­tiny as to the pri­vacy rights of in­di­vid­u­als, the LPRs do not pro­vide the of­fi­cer with race, gen­der, eth­nic­ity, or im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus from the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by the reg­is­tra­tion plate.”

He stressed the crime­fight abil­ity of the sys­tem

“The Fair­field Po­lice De­part­ment takes pri­vacy rights very se­ri­ous and seeks to find a bal­ance be­tween en­sur­ing peo­ple’s con­sti­tu­tional rights, and

the use of the LPR data to solve crimes and main­tain the se­cu­rity of our com­mu­nity,” Kala­ma­ras said.

In Trum­bull, Po­lice Chief Michael Lom­bardi said Thurs­day the LPR tech­nol­ogy has been re­spon­si­ble for in­ves­ti­gat­ing a rob­bery and as­sault in a lo­cal park; and a bank rob­bery.

“The LPR has been a valu­able tool, not only for iden­ti­fy­ing the ev­ery­day vi­o­la­tions that are a dan­ger to the mo­torists on the streets of Trum­bull, but for those very se­ri­ous crimes where we need ev­ery means pos­si­ble to as­sist in keep­ing our neigh­bor­hoods safe,” Lom­bardi said, adding the Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia re­port of the ACLU find­ings “pro­vides in­ac­cu­rate and mis­lead­ing state­ments.”

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