Metro Council approves license plate readers in Nashville

Posted at 8:15 PM, Feb 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-02 06:34:31-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Metro City Council voted to approve license plate readers in the city, which some call an invaluable resource while others worry if this could mean police have more power than they can handle.

Council voted 22 to 14 with one abstention.

Before Tuesday’s third reading of the proposed license plate reader bill, some council members made comparisons to the deadly police shooting of Landon Eastep.

Eastep was killed by police after a tense standoff on Interstate 65 last Thursday. Eastep was carrying a box cutter when he was confronted by a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper. An off-duty Mt. Juliet Police officer arrived on the scene and soon after six Metro Nashville Police officers responded.

Officers noticed Eastep appeared to reach for a silver cylindrical item in his pocket before gesturing toward officers. All officers opened fire, killing Eastep in front of dozens of witnesses.

Metro Council Member Freddie O’Connell said the fallout from what happened has him and others concerned with how interactions with police could escalate into violence.

“Nashvillians are correctly thinking about the process of escalation and I think that’s a thing where we have to be perpetually mindful about recreating more scenarios in communities where we’ve already seen skepticism of the type of policing,” O’Connell said.

Metro Council Member Joy Styles, who’s been in favor of license plate readers said, “LPRs and the tragedy on Thursday are being conflated. LPRs are a great tool and we have provided provisions for their use. We have addressed the missteps that other cities have made by clearly stating what we will and will not track. This is not a surveillance tool, nor will be used for facial recognition.”

For the bill to pass Tuesday night it requires at least 21 votes. A passing vote would open the door for a pilot program to last six months. This gives the council enough time to see if results are worth maintaining the program long-term.

While cameras will be limited in what they capture, O’Connell says it’s still a very difficult balance to strike between privacy and public safety.

Every time a car passes, the LPR cameras collect data. That includes the license plate, but operators are required to report the driver’s race and ethnicity to help curb any bias. If that data is incorrect in any way, O’Connell says it could have dangerous consequences.

“It’s been hard for me to reconcile the idea of effectively treating all Nashvillians as suspects,” O’Connell said.

Area law enforcement has called the LPRs an invaluable resource that could help solve Amber Alerts and catch criminals on the run. They can also be used for drag racing, stolen cars, stolen plates, and parking offenses.

Nashville’s Community Oversight Board said they are not in support of the current bill as it’s written. They say there needs to be more oversight into what data is gathered and who has access.