Automated License Plate Readers: A Study in Failure.: News Releases: The Independent Institute

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News Release
November 30, 2021

Automated License Plate Readers: A Study in Failure.
Report reveals high-tech cameras fail to catch criminals but stick municipal taxpayers with huge costs.

Oakland, CA—A new Independent Institute report on the effectiveness of Automated License Plate Readers (APLR) by law enforcement, in partnership with Secure Justice, highlights that the use of ALPR systems does not reduce automobile thefts, nor are they an asset in generating investigative leads for police.

The city of Piedmont, California was studied by Independent Institute Research Associate Jonathan Hofer. He found the ALPR system in Piedmont, costing over $500,000, fails to justify its cost, especially given the potential compromises to the privacy and civil liberties of its citizens. Making matters worse, ALPR systems have poor accuracy and endanger the civil rights of innocent citizens.

In 2018 Jonathan Hofer and his brother Brian Hofer, were pulled over and thrown to the ground at gunpoint when a Contra Costa, California Sheriff’s ALPR misidentified the car they were driving in as stolen.

“City governments buy into the hype of license plate readers thinking they are a great crime fighting technology, but based on the data, they might as well flip a coin to get the same results,” said Jonathan Hofer.

The report was cited in cities such as Dayton, Ohio and Urbana, Illinois, where the use of ALPR systems were being debated. Both cities rejected their ALPR proposals.

Berkeley, California is considering approving funds for widespread ALPR use.

After analyzing sixteen years of stolen vehicle numbers from Piedmont, there is no statistical evidence that ALPRs have deterred motor theft, the report states. There is no statistical evidence that ALPRs are effective at giving law enforcement investigative leads and there is not even a moderate correlation between ALPRs and stolen vehicle recoveries.

“High-tech mass surveillance should be suspect on moral grounds. But this report shows that it fails even on practical grounds,” said Graham Walker, Independent Institute Executive Director.

The research in the report casts doubt on the practical significance of the reliability of ALPRs to translate hits of license plates into investigative leads for law enforcement and that the systems fail to demonstrate the desired responses and that the costs of the ALPR systems are not recuperated. Taxpayers are on the hook for the costs, while being put at risk of their civil liberties being violently abused.

Read the full report here.

To interview Jonathan Hofer, contact Robert Ade, [email protected], or (510) 635-3690.


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