Car surveillance: Acworth, Marietta have latest technology
by Leo Hohmann
July 18, 2013 12:15 AM | 6187 views | 5 5 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Tens of thousands of automatic license-plate readers are being installed across the nation, on police cars, light posts and bridge overpasses — and some Cobb municipalities are jumping into the surveillance fray.

At least two local police agencies are using the advanced cameras and tracking software that can scan hundreds of car tags in just a few seconds, then upload them to a data bank where they are stored forever.

Both the Marietta and Acworth police departments use what they call “LPRs,” or license-plate readers, and say the devices have been very successful in tracking criminals great and small.

“I don’t have any stats for you, but it works very well,” said Capt. Mark Cheatham with Acworth Police. “Two weeks ago, we located a stolen car and made an arrest off that case by using this technology.”

Acworth purchased one LPR two years ago at a cost of about $20,000, Cheatham said. It was paid for with a grant from the federal government.

When one of these devices snaps a picture of your car, it logs your license-plate number, as well as the date, time, and location. The high-speed scanners can log every passing car. The devices also allow an officer to initiate a “live search” by plugging in a specific tag number, which will automatically feed the officer information on whether that tag is associated with a suspected crime or traffic offense anywhere in the nation.

The technology is not new. The souped-up camera systems have been around for at least 12 years. But, until recently, most law enforcement agencies couldn’t afford them.

More companies are now making the systems and the prices keep getting cheaper.

“We priced the systems four or five years ago and quotes came in at $38,000 to $40,000,” Cheatham said. Now, you can get a system for less than half that amount.

Marietta Police Department has two LPR systems and, like Acworth, it retains the data it collects indefinitely and uploads the information to a nationwide database.

“We keep it indefinitely, and a lot of people are hung up on that,” said Cheatham, referring to privacy concerns. “The camera system stores all the photos but we’ll never even know we have a picture of your tag if you haven’t committed a crime. Unless we have a reason to suspect, we’ll never know.”

Marietta’s LPRs cost $14,000 apiece and were paid for with federal asset forfeiture funds, also known as seized drug money, said Officer David Baldwin, spokesman for the department.

“They’ve been very successful for us,” said Baldwin. “We’ve used them on a wide variety of things. We’ve gotten everything from the minor traffic violations, such as someone driving with a suspended license, to a wanted person to a stolen car.”

Many of the local police departments that don’t yet have LPRs are interested in them.

“We don’t have any. I wish we did,” said Bill Westenberger, police chief for the city of Kennesaw. “We did take a broad-brush look at them a little over a year ago but we had some other needs that took priority.”

Westenberger said his department recently tested an LPR system.

“We tested it out one weekend to see what the impact would be,” he said. “We found one or two people throughout the weekend who may have had suspended license issues. I don’t think the test period was long enough to truly gauge the effectiveness.

“I’d want to see what the benchmark would be on what’s useful and what’s not useful information. I’m not one who wants to keep unuseful information just laying there,” Westenberger said. “On the other hand, if something’s useful, then it is justified.”

Cobb County Police Department also has refrained from any LPR purchases to date.

“People feel like it’s Big Brother watching over us,” said Sgt. Dana Pierce, the public information officer for Cobb PD. “But the thing about it is, it has led to some arrests.”

Acworth bought its LPR from Elsag North America, which has a factory in Greensboro, N.C. Its website boasts that its systems can read “hundreds of plates per second” and can read them “from great distances” using infrared technology.

Elsag, like many private contractors, works in tandem with the federal government. It has been designated by the feds as a “Customs trade partner against terrorism,” according to its website.

While the technology is embraced enthusiastically by law enforcement, privacy advocates say they have concerns.

The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday released an exhaustive study of LPRs and concluded that the systems are tracking law abiding citizens as well as criminals. The ACLU believes the data collected should not be retained indefinitely by law enforcement.

“In the not so distant future, it could be possible to assemble permanent records of nearly everywhere each of us has driven,” according to an article on the civil liberties watchdog’s website Thursday. “The American Civil Liberties Union is concerned about the immense amount of data being gathered on motorists who’ve broken no laws.”

The ACLU study, which pulls public records from nearly 600 police departments nationwide, found there are “virtually no rules in place to prevent a system that can eventually track everybody all the time.”

The article then quoted a D.C. Circuit Court judge’s ruling that said “A person who knows all of another’s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly churchgoer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.”

In New York City, for instance, the ACLU says police officers have reportedly driven unmarked cars equipped with license-plate readers around local mosques in order to record each attendee.


Comments-icon Post a Comment
Avoid Acworth
July 19, 2013
I live not farm Acworth and will avoid shopping within the city limits of Acworth from here on out. I know this growing monitoring of my movements is done in many places but I can at least make a small effort to avoid Acworth for their choices. I really hate how this information is being gathered and stored for future use.
D.G. in Clarkdale
July 18, 2013
Government tracks your cellphone, records your text, listens to your conversations, photographs your mail, watches you walk down the street, monitors what you search for and type on the internet and tracks where you go in your car. ANYONE who says this country isn't on the verge of being a full-blown fascist police state in a darn fool or works for the government. One morning you'll wake up and find your country gone and have no one to blame but yourselves for letting it happen. I hope and pray you all wake up and quick! Demand these devices be removed and remember what Benjamin Franklin said;

“Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security”
Bill, Kennesaw
July 18, 2013

From the first instances of Police in car filming in Texas in the late 1990's to today, we have

We have already entered the George Orwell 'Big Brother' state and it didn't take long to arrive there.

It started in the late 1990's with a few police cars in Texas having bulky VCR's mounted on tripods. In 200 and 2003 Federal COPS grants brought such filming into even more police cars. Now most cars are so equipped.

Initially officers did not appreciate video's being made but when it proved that such filming exonerated officers of citizen complaints 96.8 percent of the time it became more accepted.

There seems to be absolutely NO interest in legislation limiting either dashboard filming or the more recent license plate scanning. Some officers even have cameras attached to their uniforms so even if the angle on the dash camera won't show the citizen contact the uniform camera will pick up both a video and audio.

Details at: and also
West Cobb
July 18, 2013
There is something terribly wrong with all of this monitoring, and that's what it is... plain and simple monitoring all of our movements in the the name of security.

Why do I feel alarmingly less secure?
July 18, 2013
If the police can have these, then so can we. We can keep our eyes on the police and know where they are. We will know their routines. We will know their comings and goings. Sell your Krispy Kreme stock now!
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