KYLE, Texas – License plate readers are popping up more often, possibly because a law passed by the Texas Legislature last year allows them to be tied to mobile payment systems.
On Wednesday, the Defenders showed how the Guadalupe County Sheriff's Office uses LPRs to spot vehicles flagged with warrants.
Now, the KSAT-12 investigative team is looking into why the city of Kyle decided to opt out of using LPRs.
City spokeswoman Kim Hilsenbeck said about a month stood between the City Council's decision to start using the LPR technology provided by Vigilant Solutions and rescinding the memorandum of understanding after privacy concerns were raised.
Before a single LPR was even installed on Kyle's police cruisers, people were asking whether the devices were the latest in crime-fighting technology or an invasion of privacy. That includes Kyle City Councilwoman Daphne Tenorio.
"I was very uncomfortable with the possibility of anybody being able to utilize the data and manipulate that data for whatever needs it may be," Tenorio said. "Whether it be marketing, or be able to track individuals."
Vigilant Solutions tells the Defenders location information and license plate numbers are encrypted and secured on its servers. The company said that data is only accessible by law enforcement. Its system lets peace officers spot wanted vehicles and provides the convenience of letting those pulled over pay some court fines on the spot. However, the service provider tacks on what some call a hefty fee.
"We take 25 percent and we're providing a lot of services and products for that 25 percent," Brian Shockley, the vice president of marketing for Vigilant Solutions, said. "We’re providing free equipment. We’re providing the database maintenance. We’re providing the hosting mechanism, the data center that we house the data in. We’re providing a payment website, payment processing services, credit card transaction fees. All of that is included in the 25 percent."
"We're not ready for it yet," Tenorio said. While she agrees the city could have used the revenue from fines collected, she doesn't think the benefits outweigh the security concerns right now.
Vigilant Solutions went as far as revising the contract with the city in hopes of saving the agreement. Three amendments included allowing a court side or police department payment kiosk at no charge to the city, utilizing a letter notification service of court direct mailings to defendants at no charge to the city and deleting all city of Kyle data from the Vigilant Solutions LPR service when and if the contract were ever terminated.
However, Kyle's City Council still decided to rescind the contract with a 6-1 to vote during a Feb. 16 meeting.