License Plate Readers Again Captivate Putnam Legislators

Cold Spring police in line to get the devices

Along with re-opening a review of Sheriff’s Department overtime expenses, the Putnam County Legislature’s Protective Services Committee last week continued its consideration, now several months running, of the use of license plate readers in law enforcement.

License-plate readers are camera systems mounted in squad cars that capture and store images in order to track vehicle movements. They are used by three municipal police departments in Putnam, plus the New York State Police and the Sheriff’s Department, which has arranged to provide them to the Cold Spring Police Department, as well.

On April 17, Sheriff Robert Langley said in a news release that the readers had been instrumental on April 6 and April 8 in helping his deputies identify vehicles that had been reported stolen.

However, the Legislature wants stricter rules for their use. The committee devoted much of its March meeting to parsing a draft Sheriff’s Department policy and it continued its deliberations for nearly another hour on April 15.

Legislator Amy Sayegh (R-Mahopac Falls) said she recognizes the value of license-plate readers but worries about “innocent people, law-abiding citizens” whose data might be swept up in a search. “It’s very important we get this right. We know this can get quite out of hand.”

Legislator Neal Sullivan (R-Mahopac) said legislators were surprised to learn that along with plate numbers, the readers might show bumper stickers or occupants in a vehicle.

Langley responded that a license-plate reader “is a law enforcement tool used for investigation” and can accelerate efforts “to bring justice for innocent persons. It’s not used to spy on the community at large.”

Legislators Nancy Montgomery (D-Philipstown) and Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) said they hope the committee’s review does not interfere with the Cold Spring Police Department’s plans to acquire the readers.

“Let’s just move forward” and “not lose focus” of the purpose of the tool, Nacerino said. “It isn’t a frivolous peek-and-look to try to trap someone.”

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