May 24, 2014
We recently covered a story about a lawyer who found himself approached by cops with guns drawn after an automatic license plate reader misread a single character on his plate as he drove by. The police did make an attempt to verify the plate but were stymied by heavy traffic. Unfortunately, it appears they decided to force the issue rather than let a potential car thief escape across the state line.
As I pointed out then, the increasing reliance on ALPRs, combined with the one-billion-plus records already in storage and the millions being collected every day, means the number of errors will only increase as time goes on — even as the technology continues to improve. This person was lucky to escape with nothing more than an elevated heart rate. Others won’t be so lucky… like Denise Green of San Francisco.
Green’s civil rights lawsuit has just been reinstated by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned an earlier decision that granted summary judgment in favor of the San Francisco Police Department. The lower court found that the officers had made a “good faith, reasonable mistake” when they performed a felony stop of Green, which included being ordered out of her vehicle and onto the ground at gunpoint and held in cuffs for nearly 20 minutes while officers verified the plates and filled out paperwork.
The Appeals Court disagreed with this finding and the opinion details what the SFPD is supposedto do with ALPR “hits” and compares this to what was actually happened.
It is undisputed that the ALPR occasionally makes false “hits” by misreading license plate numbers and mismatching passing license plate numbers with those listed as wanted in the database. Because of the known flaws in the system, SFPD officers are trained that an ALPR hit does not automatically justify a vehicle stop, and SFPD directs its officers to verify the validity of the identified hit before executing a stop.
Patrol officers are instructed to take two steps to verify a hit before acting on an ALPR read. The first step is to visually confirm the license plate (to ensure that the vehicle actually bears the license plate number identified by the camera); the second step is to confirm with the system that the identified plate number has actually been reported as stolen or wanted.
The opinion notes that the SFPD, at the time of the incident, actually had no official verification policy in place that designated which officer(s) should perform this task. The expert testifying on behalf of the PD indicated that it would most likely be performed by the operator of the “camera car” (the vehicle with the ALPR) but was unable to point to any policy actually stating this.
Full article here