Bismarck Police adding license plate scanners

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Bismarck isn’t exactly a hotbed of crime when compared nationally, but for those who do break the law, police have a new weapon to track you down.

Recently, the department acquired two new squad cars outfitted with license plate reading technology.

So, how does it work? Well, KX News sat down with Bismarck Deputy Police Chief Jason Stugelmeyer for the answer.

“The cars are driving down the road and it’s just recognizing characters on the plates and it will alert the driver or any units that are out there driving around if it hits on a, or recognizes characters that are involved in a database such as the National Crime Information Center database,” said Stugelmeyer.

The new system is always scanning, but only scanning for certain things — such as, is the vehicle stolen? Has it been identified in a previous crime? Is it wanted as part of an Amber Alert?

Stugelmeyer adds it’s not checking to see if your plates may be expired, and the safety of the officer was also taken into consideration.

“The technology is no different from what an officer can do normally, and it’s really unsafe for an officer to be driving down the road typing in a plate that he sees,” said Stugelmeyer.

Not everyone is as excited with the new technology as the Bismarck Police Department is.

KX News spoke with individuals on the other side of the law and they raised numerous concerns to us about the new system including abuse of power and whether or not this is an example of big brother in local government.

We spent a few minutes with Defense Attorney Lloyd Suhr who tells us he’s got some serious questions about the system.

“How are law enforcement agencies regulating this internally? How is it regulated more broadly? It has kind of that ‘Big Brother’ feel and I think that there are certainly concerns about it being almost like an electronic trespass,” said Suhr.

But that’s a claim the department disputes.

“If you’re not involved in criminal activity you have nothing to worry about, that’s plain and simple. I guess I would be nervous if I were involved in criminal activity and used vehicles to my benefit in criminal activity, but if you’re not involved in that type of thing you have nothing to worry about,” said Stugelmeyer.

He adds it’s very simple. As criminals update their technology to commit crime, police must do the same to fight it.

The two vehicles equipped with the new scanners are also hybrid vehicles as part of a pilot program to test fuel savings.

The Fargo Police Department is the only other department in the state to have the technology.

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