Where’s the transparency on Tempe’s license plate reader program?

A screengrab, edited by the Arizona Mirror, of a license plate scanned by Perceptics’ who had a database of license plates and other information leaked.

Imagine my surprise when I found out my license plate was in the massive secret database used by the Tempe police. 

It was a couple of years ago when my truck was photographed in my driveway on a Saturday morning. It was and wasn’t a surprise because it’s no secret there are those who don’t care for my written opinions on policing and the questions I ask. 

I’ve got nothing to hide, but the idea “big brother” might be tracking me and my movements are cause for concern. And what about elected officials who might be targeted, citizens who disagree with those in power, community activists, and the list goes on and on.

Don’t get me wrong, the use of technology to track criminals is the way to go, but where and when do you draw the line?

When this program started the public insisted on safeguards if the Tempe police were going to spy on non-criminals. The Tempe Police Department acquiesced and wrote rules about collecting data that involved annual audits of the program. There were audits in 2014 and 2015, according to a report in the Arizona Mirror

But there have been none since then. According to the story, “In 2015, 120 auditable queries didn’t have an identifying number, but rather ‘generic identifying information such as the type of crime being investigated or type of warrant.’ Three quarters of those queries were the result of six employees, one of which was responsible for 61 of them.”

Tempe’s rules require that police be working a crime and case number in order to access and use the secret data. A small group of officers were violating the rules. One can only wonder who they were, what the data was, whom it was on and what was done with it?

Not only did officers violate the rules designed to safeguard our right to privacy, ex-Tempe police Chief Tom Ryff and current Chief Sylvia Moir failed to follow the rules and ensure the annual audits were done. One can only wonder why there were two audits and then there were no more. Both discovered misconduct.

An inquiry to the City of Tempe brought back this response: “Our policy (attached) also states that an audit of the ALPR program will be completed annually. It is accurate that we are out of compliance with our own standards on that account. We did complete annual audits in 2014 and 2015. We do plan to audit the ALPR program to verify compliance again later this year.” 

What that response doesn’t mention is will the audit be for 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019? Will the audit be public? Will anyone be held accountable for violating the rules, including the police chief?

Public trust and organizational transparency in policing starts at the top and not at the bottom.  This serious gaffe in the rules by police officials has betrayed the public trust.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if the Tempe PD is really transparent and can earn our trust?



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