While watching an inordinate number of “I smell pot” stops by the Carrollton Police Department that ended up empty handed, we started looking a little deeper at what might be going on. In particular, how could we keep coming across the same cop doing these “I smell pot” searches? When we noticed he had scanners on his SUV, it got us to thinking what might really be going on.
Carrollton Police use devices called ALPR’s (Automatic License Plate Readers). It would be easy to assume that the police only use these devices for “good”, like trying to locate stolen vehicles. That once a plate number of a stolen vehicle is entered into the system they [police with scanners] get an alert when they happen to scan one but that just doesn’t seem to be the case. Through an open records request asking about the PD policy with ALPR’s, we got a response that no such document exists. That leads us to believe that they just do whatever they want to do with their ALPR’s.
It appears that the police have found a way to track innocent individuals movement without any need for a warrant, or frankly, any responsibility to anyone. With the use of ALPR’s, it looks like they can just scan any vehicle they want, and track movement. They can store all of this information for whatever reason they choose. Without doing anything illegal, they can look up any, and all, hits on your plate to track your tendencies.
What part of town do you frequent?
What doctors are you visiting?
How often do you frequent clubs?
How long have been at your favorite pub on any given night?
Furthermore, can an individual cop use this to track an enemy like a cheating spouse, a “CopBlocker” or another to help build a war chest against them? Can the police department simply scan the plates of every person who has ever committed a crime to harass them even though they aren’t currently committing a crime?
That brought us back to the frequency of Carrollton cops running, “I smell pot” stops. Are they using these ALPR’s to keep track of people (or varying spectrums of people) so they can increase their odds of catching people who MIGHT have a little bit of pot in their possession? It would be pretty easy to think young people would be your best bet for catching someone with pot. Add the ALPR information, and the cops could conceivably take a good gamble, and claim “I smell pot”, and feel like the odds are good they will happen to find something upon a, what usually would be an illegal, search. Why else are we filming so many “I smell pot” failures in Carrollton?
Has society devolved to the point where the police are simply allowed to track our “free travel” in any way they see fit to potentially use it against us? It’s easy to go back to the age old “if I’m not doing anything wrong….”, but this should still concern you. Consider every place you have ever been, now question if you would be OK with all of that information being available through an open records request. Would your boss care? Would your spouse care? Could the police pin a crime on you just because of your travel history? What if they scan your plate at a bar, and pin a DUI charge on you simply because of the amount of time you were there? Or the random time a CPD officer decided to scan your plates? What if the police lie and manually place a read of your plate at the next homicide in town?
This type of police abuse should be fought by every person who believes that freedom to travel is a God given right. Not a privilege for the police to use their gestapo tools on you at their own will and for their own schemes.
UPDATE: One thing we hadn’t even thought of was using these devices to check people on the road for liability insurance, and ticket them by mail if the plate does not show insurance. The problem is, insurance is only one of 5 options you can provide for financial responsibility. It looks like even the state AG is balking at this one though. Surprising, a Texas politician that actually looks at the law instead of appealing to Bubba.
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