Patrol car cameras take pictures of license plates

No agencies in northeast Florida use them

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. - A growing number of law enforcement agencies across the nation are using dashboard cameras in their patrol cars that can take a picture of a vehicle's license plate.

Many people are concerned about that because it stores their info, but Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper says as long as agencies use the information ethically, it can be a beneficial tool.

"Each agency will have their own policy, but it should be one that you're not storing that data unnecessarily so you're not violating anyone's constitutional rights," Leeper said.

Drivers in northeast Florida don't have to worry about this latest trend yet because no area agencies have patrol car cameras that take pictures of a vehicle's license plate.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office does not have them and had no comment on whether it will consider them in the future. The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office said it had them about 15 years ago but got rid of them due to a court order.

The sheriff's offices in Clay, Baker and Nassau counties say they don't have them. And the Florida Highway Patrol has yet to respond.

Although Nassau County doesn't have them, Leeper thinks they are great.

"They have been good tools and have solved crimes in areas around our country," he said.

Crimes like stolen vehicles, Amber alerts, even unpaid tickets. Leeper said every agency with the cameras has its own policy on how long it keeps the information stored and how it's used. He said as long as the agency has an ethical policy, the cameras are a huge benefit to police.

Channel 4 crime and safety analyst Ken Jefferson agrees.

"This is aiding law enforcement," he said. "This should be a positive concern that its aiding them. If your car is stolen and they have no way of tracking it, maybe this cam can pick it up and at least see where it's going or what direction it's headed, and it can help you possibly recover your car."

The American Civil Liberties Union feels the opposite about the cameras.

"What business of the government's is it to be tracking where all Americans are going?" a spokesperson said. "Where you drive can reveal a great deal about you."

Leeper said he doesn't see his Sheriff's Office getting the cameras any time soon because they're not in its budget. But he said he won't be surprised to see even more agencies across the nation put cameras in their cruisers.

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