City of Beloit police have begun using a new way to survey the streets for criminals.

The department currently has two squad cars equipped with automated license plate readers (ALPR), which when turned on, allow police to scan the license plates of any car it passes.

Police Chief Norm Jacobs said the department began looking into the technology last year, as an effort to help control the gun violence in Beloit.

“Everything is very mobile. Crime in Beloit is very mobile � cars are associated with all of these crimes,” Jacobs said.

The technology, according to the city�s policy, is a system that can capture images of vehicles and their registration information. It costs $40,000 to be installed into two squad cars, including the software. The money came from the department�s confiscated property fund.

Jacobs said the data will be stored in Greenfield, Wis., where the Rock County Sheriff�s Department also stores its data from the system for one year. The system is closed and not accessible to anyone outside of law enforcement.

The scanners are mounted on squad cars. They scan and match car data with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to see if registration is up-to-date and if the owners are wanted by police. The scanners log the time and location of vehicles when they are scanned. An alarm will sound inside the squad car if its on the “hot list,” for example, stolen cars, vehicles owned by a person of interest or vehicles associated with AMBER alerts.

Jacobs said the data is no different than the data the city already has on registered vehicles, but the new technology speeds up the process.

“I don�t know if people know this, but we already have registration information on CDs for every car in the city,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said it could also be used to find sex offenders who may be near schools or add information to the system about cars belonging to suspects. He said officers will still have to verify information gained through the system.

“They can�t take action based on (the system),” Jacobs said. “You have to verify what it�s telling you is accurate.”

For now, only a few officers will be using the system, until the rest are trained on it.

Capt. Jude Maurer of the Rock County�s Sheriff�s Office said the department currently has one squad car equipped with the technology. He said the technology has found leads the department may not have gotten otherwise. Maurer said there was a case where cell phone towers were burglarized and copper was stolen. The suspects were placed at the scene thanks to the scanner.

“Without that system, things go unnoticed,” Maurer said. “It�s a valuable tool for us.”

Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have fought against the capturing of non-criminal data since the technology came into existence in 2012.

Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for ACLU, said the technology isn�t going away any time soon.

“We�re continuing to see the technology spread around the country. In too many cases, we�re seeing police departments keep data on innocent people who they have no reason to suspect of any wrongdoing, and they�re keeping records on their whereabouts when it�s not their role,” Stanley said.

He added the software is valuable, yet data for innocent people should be deleted after days, not months or years.

“In our country, we don�t let the authorities watch everyone in case there is a crime,” Stanley said.

Officers aren�t allowed to record plates on private property not exposed to public view or use the technology to harass or intimidate. Maurer said officers who violate the policies could face fines or termination. According to a leading ALPR company ELSAG NA, some systems can capture up to 18,000 plates per minute.

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