Green Bay’s license plate reader expansion includes mobile cameras

The city council approved 12 more cameras, for a total of 40. The chief discusses how they will ... and won't ... be used
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 3:38 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2022 at 5:58 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The Green Bay City Council approved 12 more license plate reader cameras for the city.

Council members approved three years’ worth of funding for the cameras, but Tuesday the police chief was asking city officials to increase the number of cameras from 28 to 40. The license plate reader cameras are placed along public roads in high-traffic areas, but two of the new cameras will be mobile instead of on fixed posts and could be moved to certain areas where needed.

According to city records, the total cost would be $332,000, with the city using some COVID relief funds.

“To me, a program like this that costs what one police officer would cost gives us an even higher return on the investment,” Chief Christopher Davis said. “And that’s not to say that we can replace all our police officers with cameras, of course, but the return on that investment was just too great to pass up.”

The police department says the cameras have helped keep the community safer and credit them with tracking and arresting murder suspect Alejandro Cantu when he returned to Green Bay from Texas in August.

Last weekend, the license plate reader cameras snapped images of several stolen vehicles in the area.

“We had something like 15 different hits come up with stolen cars in the city, and it was some of them are duplicates, so it’s five or six different stolen cars that we never would have known rolled through our city but we did as a result of this technology,” the police chief said. “I don’t think any of us anticipated how successful the license plate reader pilot project would be, and so we think that that’s a game changer for us.”

One thing the cameras don’t do? Catch speeders.

“We do not use it for traffic enforcement. Photo traffic enforcement is illegal in the state of Wisconsin, so we couldn’t use it for that even if we wanted to,” Davis said.

The cameras only take pictures of license plates on the back of a vehicle. They don’t take pictures of drivers.

Davis says wherever the cameras are placed, it will be done with people’s privacy and civil liberties in mind.

“We want to be really careful about having disparate impacts on one part of the community or the other, so it really tried to apply an equity lens in the positioning of all these cameras so that, because we recognize that people have legitimate privacy and civil liberties concerns with these and it’s incumbent upon us to use any tools that we have in law enforcement responsibly in a way that respects people’s rights.”

If the city continues using license plate readers from the current provider when the three-year contract is up, the program will cost $106,000 a year.

Green Bay will add 12 cameras, including 2 mobile cameras, for a total of 40