Richmond police to install license plate readers in several neighborhoods

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Richmond Police Department will install license plate readers in several neighborhoods throughout the city, giving authorities access to information on the license plates that move through the area.

While the specific locations have not been finalized, Richmond police listed Southwood, Shockoe Bottom and Richmond Redevelopment and Housing properties are the areas where cameras will be placed.

A Richmond police spokesperson, James Mercante, wrote in an email that the readers will be used as a tool to prevent crimes and assist with active investigations, including Amber alerts and identifying stolen vehicles. He noted that if a location selected is on private property, the department would seek permission from the owner.

“Following crime trends, input from officers, precinct leadership and command staff, and after several site surveys throughout the city, it was identified that these areas would benefit from the utilization of the license plate readers regarding criminal activity,” Mercante wrote.

The department used grant funding to purchase five license plate readers, but the devices have not been delivered yet. Richmond police will be utilizing the Virginia State Police License Plate Reader program’s database, a program Mercante said has set data collection restrictions.

“Through the VSP program, the system only retains plate information collected through these devices when the data specifically pertains to active investigations and intelligence gathering related to criminal activity,” Mercante added. “If the LPR information does not specifically pertain to active investigations and/or intelligence gathering related to criminal activity, the information is purged from the system within 24 hours.”

Angela Fountain, a spokesperson with RRHA, said the group worked with RPD and a Richmond Tenant Organization on the plan for the cameras. They hope it will reduce crime and allow them to spot stolen vehicles.

“They wholeheartedly embraced this because, you know, they live in the communities and so we have to listen to them,” Fountain said about leaders within RTO.

Fountain also expressed her concerns over previous reporting from other news outlets, saying they have “put forth a very negative narrative” that the devices will be used to target those in the community.

However, advocacy groups have shared their concerns with police departments installing license plate readers and other surveillance technology, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia tweeting it “won’t make our streets safer & we shouldn’t be putting more money into them.”

Several Whitcomb Court residents including one mother who said she’s scared to bring her children outside because of the violence, doesn’t believe the cameras will prevent crime. Instead, she told 8News preventing the violence starts with mentoring the youth.

“Nine times out of 10 somebody’s probably drive-by shooting. Anything could happen, you know what I’m saying? Living out here. So, they’ve got to do some stuff, give back to the community, so the children can grow up and do stuff different,” she said.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney expressed his support for the license plate readers during a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday. He said there has been an uptick in crime across the country — including Richmond. Stoney said the city needed to utilize every tool it could to mitigate situations that could end up in a loss of life.

“This tool is going to help us do that in high crime areas, I support that,” the mayor said. “I think we need to use this properly to get the wrong-doers off the street and I think that’s exactly what the Richmond Police Department is going to do. “

Stay with 8News for updates.

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