Resident comments show opposition to Dayton license plate readers

More than two-thirds of respondents oppose cameras that police support; public hearing set for Wednesday

More than twice as many commenters opposed the technology than supported it, according to this newspaper’s review of the messages the city received and published online.

Many people who raised objections said the police department has not complied with a city ordinance that requires it to produce a “fair or transparent” impact report about the proposed technology, which means the hearing should be postponed.

“While the DPD makes a decent case to add this technology, their response to citizens’ concerns is basically to trust them,” wrote Mary Sue Gmeiner. “There is a lack of independent review that is critical to approving this technology.”

But supporters say the technology should make the city and its neighborhoods safer, and they are not worried about its potential misuse.

“It’s a reasonable and efficient use of technology to help police solve crimes,” wrote Nick Reeder, a Dayton resident.

The Dayton Police Department plans to hold a public hearing on Wednesday about automated license plate readers.

Police propose activating plate readers in every patrol cruiser, and they want to obtain and install fixed-site cameras in local neighborhoods that want them.

Many people said the police impact report does not comply with a city ordinance regulating new proposed law enforcement surveillance technology.

Some people claimed the report is not fair and impartial like it is supposed to be, saying some of the data police highlighted is misleading and fails to show that plate readers reduce crime, including in neighborhoods where the devices were deployed during a pilot program.

“Independent evaluation and research has demonstrated that ALPRs do not decrease crime and their use and scope in assisting with relevant investigations is so limited that their use is not worth the infringement on our civil liberties,” wrote Melissa Bertolo, a city resident.

Multiple people asked the city to delay the public hearing until they say police produce a compliant impact report.

Some community members also said they believe plate readers invade people’s privacy and could contribute to overpolicing. They wrote that the data the plate readers collect could be shared with outside agencies or misused.

“Transparency and fairness in policing and public processes are critical to our community,” wrote Eileen Comerford, who called for delaying the public hearing.

But other community members said plate readers would help police catch criminals.

Plate readers were temporarily installed in the Twin Towers and Walnut Hills neighborhoods in 2020, and some neighborhood leaders said they were very helpful.

“As the data shows, not only did the license plate readers aid in the recovery of stolen vehicles, it also aided in slowing the drug flow in Twin Towers, perhaps saving many lives as well in helping with the reduction in crime within the neighborhood,” said Leslie Sheward, president of the Twin Towers Neighborhood Association.

According to the police impact report, Twin Towers saw a 28% decrease in crime between 2019 and 2020.

But the neighborhood saw a 20% decrease in crime between 2018 and 2019, when there were no plate readers. Walnut Hills saw an increase in crime between 2019 and 2020, despite the use of readers.

“Many other municipalities are using these and have solved many crimes with this program,” wrote Richard Suhr. “Our law enforcement people need all the crime-fighting tools available.”

Some people said they support deploying technology as long as police have safeguards and good policies in place to ensure they are used appropriately.

Dayton police Chief Kamran Afzal said there is some “misinformation” circulating that police potentially could share data captured by the readers with immigration authorities or other agencies.

He said that is completely untrue and they do not share this data with other agencies.

He also said that police already have access to the information that license plate readers collect, the readers just automate the process.

About 950 cars in Dayton have been stolen each year on average in the last five years, and plate readers could help recover the vehicles and catch the culprits, he said.

Plate readers only will give officers alerts when the plate numbers are of stolen cars or they are connected to people who are wanted on felony or domestic violence warrants or the vehicles were involved in a crime, he said.

“In the era of police reforms, it takes away somebody’s personal biases as to why they want to run a particular car,” he said. “It’s running every car (in front) of the camera.”

“This is information we already have, it’s just reading license plates in a public space — not in your home, on the roadway,” Afzal said.

Police also will get alerts if vehicles are connected to missing or abducted children or missing adults who are in danger, officials said.

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