By Rich Pollack
It looks like license-plate recognition cameras on State Road A1A and other state roads will be allowed to stay up after all — at least for now.
Last month, officials with the Florida Department of Transportation’s regional office caused an uproar in the local law enforcement community when they sent letters to four municipalities in Palm Beach County requiring the removal of license-plate recognition system cameras on state rights of way.
Some of those cameras, including ones in the towns of Palm Beach and Manalapan, had been up for more than a decade and had been permitted by FDOT.
Now, it seems that thanks to intervention by the Palm Beach County Association of Police Chiefs and the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the cameras will be allowed to remain, at least until a permanent resolution is hammered out between impacted law enforcement agencies and FDOT officials.
“Common sense took over,” says Ocean Ridge Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi, who has been leading efforts to have agencies in southern Palm Beach County work together to install scanners on State Road A1A. “This is a public safety-focused technology that should be expanded, not decreased. I’m sure that there will be further discussions and that any other differences will be worked out.”
License-plate recognition systems work by scanning tags of passing cars and comparing that information to tag numbers entered into databases by law enforcement agencies. If a tag registered to a stolen vehicle is spotted by the system, for example, an alert is sent to a dispatcher who verifies the information and then notifies officers on patrol.
Law enforcement officials in Palm Beach County using license-plate recognition systems said they were surprised last month when they received a letter from FDOT ordering that the cameras on state property be removed.
In the letter to police chiefs and managers in Boca Raton, Manalapan, Palm Beach and Riviera Beach, the FDOT’s District 4 Maintenance Engineer John Danielson noted that an inspection by state crews found that license-plate recognition devices had been installed on state property.
“Only legislatively authorized traffic infraction detectors (red-light cameras) and toll violation cameras are permitted within FDOT right of way,” Danielson wrote. “In the absence of specific legislative authorization, other types of camera systems, such as license-plate readers and surveillance cameras that are used by law enforcement, are not allowed.”
Chuck McGinness, a spokesman for the FDOT’s District 4 — which includes Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties — said the letters were prompted by a media report several weeks ago about a license plate recognition camera installed by the city of Riviera Beach near the Blue Heron Bridge.
“Our maintenance staff was asked to survey state roadways, particularly along State Road A1A and near Intracoastal Waterway bridges, for other license-plate recognition devices,” he said. “After the survey, the letter was sent to those municipalities with license-plate recognition cameras on state right of way.”
The letters, a topic of discussion among local police officials including several whose communities are considering installing license-plate recognition scanners, were brought up at last month’s meeting of the Palm Beach County Association of Police Chiefs.
One of the members of that group is Jupiter Police Chief Frank Kitzerow, current president of the Florida Police Chief’s Association. Both Kitzerow and the Palm Beach County Association’s president, Palm Beach Public Safety Director Kirk Blouin — whose department was one of those receiving a letter — contacted FDOT officials in Tallahassee.
“They’re being very reasonable with us and we’re sure we’ll come to a reasonable solution,” said Blouin, who confirmed that FDOT is allowing the cameras to remain on state property, at least temporarily.
A Florida Department of Transportation spokesman in Tallahassee said little about the situation. “We are working cooperatively with the affected local governments to reach a resolution,” Dick Kane, FDOT’s communications director, said.
By Rich Pollack