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Sheriff’s Office withdraws proposal to place license plate readers on Omaha streets | Politics and government

A proposal that would have allowed the use of license plate reading cameras on the streets of Omaha will not go forward.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office removed the proposed deal from the city council’s agenda on Tuesday, a week after the cameras were the subject of a lengthy debate before council.

The sheriff’s office did not respond to a World-Herald reporter’s question about the decision.

Some law enforcement agencies have touted the controversial equipment as a hard-hitting investigative tool. But opponents argue that its usefulness is outweighed by potential violations of civil liberties.

Automatic license plate readers are cameras mounted on patrol cars or stationary objects along the road that take a photo of each license plate that passes. Plate images, along with the time, date and location, are recorded and transmitted to a database.

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The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office recently installed 15 such devices on county streets, but needs permission from the City of Omaha to install 10 more at the border of county and city jurisdictions. town.

Use of the cameras is part of a 12-month free trial offered to the sheriff’s office by Flock Safety, an Atlanta-based company that offers license plate technology. Earlier this year, the Kearney Police Department became the first law enforcement entity in Nebraska to offer the company the free trial offer.

The sheriff’s office accepted the lawsuit in part because of a recent spike in crime, according to Will Niemack, captain of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

“We believe the cameras will have a positive effect on catching criminals,” Niemack told council members at a public hearing last week.

The Flock devices use data from the National Crime Information Center database, which is a computerized index of criminal justice information, including criminal history information, fugitives, stolen property and missing persons. If a stolen vehicle passes one of the license plate readers, an alert is sent to the sheriff’s office.

Similar devices are currently used by the Bellevue Police Department and in Lancaster and Seward counties.

Yet several people, including some council members, raised concerns during last week’s public hearing about the collection of so much data and its potential use.

“What this program is is systematic surveillance of the people of Omaha,” said Spike Eickholt on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska. “We encourage the city council not to approve this ordinance. Otherwise, we ask that you wait and see. It’s a trial period, wait to see how it works for them.

Niemack told the council last week that the data belongs to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and is stored in a cloud with security measures consistent with those used by the FBI.

State law requires collected data to be purged within 180 days unless it’s needed for a criminal investigation or prosecution, but Niemack said the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office will automatically delete data. data every 30 days. For data to be recorded beyond 30 days, it should be considered evidence in an ongoing investigation, he added.

Flock also provides a website that displays usage metrics by the Sheriff’s Office.

“This transparency within (the trial) is going to be an interesting test because not only are we looking for proactive and productive investigative measures,” Niemack said, “but we’re also looking for ways for the community to engage with this to that we can help deter crime.