LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — Tag readers, which already exist on any Lakeland police cruiser with a dashboard camera, will soon be installed in fixed locations across the city.
“For us, it’s a big force multiplier,” said Assistant Chief Hans Lehman with the Lakeland Police Department.
He said the readers, which record license plate data on vehicles that drive by them, help give the police department more eyes as officer vacancies remain open.
“When we have an opportunity to leverage technology like this and we’re not having to cost the taxpayers any additional dollars, I think it’s a win-win for the community and it helps us stay safer,” said Lehman.
Lakeland city commissioners recently approved a new agreement with Verra Mobility, the company it contracts with for its red light cameras. That new contract also includes 19 fixed location Flock tag readers.
Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz called surveillance concerns “disappointing.”
“To me, to think about it as anything but positive is a mistake because it is a wonderful enhancement to our public safety and quality of life,” said Mayor Mutz.
“There are cameras everywhere and this is part of how we operate in 2023 and it is very helpful when something does go wrong,” said Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley.
Other commissioners, Stephanie Madden and Chad McLeod, said they heard from citizens about privacy concerns.
“I think people are not sure what kind of data they’re collecting, what kind of video footage they’re able to accumulate, making people a little more reticent about privacy infringement,” said Commissioner Madden. “I am a little reticent today about those, not knowing where they will be deployed.”
Commissioners voted 6-1 to approve the agreement. Commissioner Mike Musick dissented due to concerns about the red light camera portion of the deal.
“Is this the country that we want to live in? Is this the America we have always known?” said Jay Stanley, with the ACLU.
News Channel 8 interviewed Stanley in July when it was discovered the Polk County Sheriff’s Office had installed at least two tag readers in the county.
The sheriff’s office has not disclosed the amount or location of its readers.
“In our society, the government doesn’t look over your shoulder and record everything you do unless it has individualized suspicion that you are engaged in some form of wrongdoing,” said Stanley.
Deputy Chief Lehman said the tag readers are just another piece of technology officers can access.
“The cameras are pointed on the roadway, which there’s really no expectation of privacy when you’re traveling down a public roadway,” he said.
Lehman said officers would not be allowed to track or follow citizens with the readers.
“If some officer or anybody does that, there’s criminal penalties for using information when it’s not supposed to be used that way,” said Lehman.
The $57,000 a year cost for the readers will be paid for by red light camera violations, according to the city. The footage will be stored by Flock Safety by its own records retention schedule.
The readers will be installed this fall or at the latest the new year. Police are not disclosing their locations.