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Milwaukee police use license-plate scanners

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Law enforcement officers are seen at the site where a Virginia Tech police officer was shot and killed at Virginia Tech University Blacksburg, Virginia December 8, 2011. 
Credit: REUTERS/Chris Keane
Law enforcement officers are seen at the site where a Virginia Tech police officer was shot and killed at Virginia Tech University Blacksburg, Virginia December 8, 2011. Credit: REUTERS/Chris Keane

MILWAUKEE (WSAU-Wheeler News)   Milwaukee Police are defending their use of the controversial license plate readers that some state lawmakers want to limit. Milwaukee is among a number of Wisconsin communities that use the technology, which has been getting more attention due to privacy concerns. The readers are placed on squad cars, and they record license plates of every vehicle that goes by. The numbers are immediately checked to see if their owners are wanted -- and the plates and the vehicles' locations are immediately put on file.

Last month three state lawmakers of both parties announced a bill to destroy all license plate photos within 48 hours unless they're needed for criminal investigations. They're still seeking co-sponsors.

The American Civil Liberties' Union says the technology allows the government to track innocent people's movements by recording their driving habits. A Journal Sentinel reporter learned that his license plates were photographed 42 times by Milwaukee Police from May through November. They've been using the readers since 2008.

Milwaukee police officials said it helped them recover 125 stolen cars in one night, caught an armed robbery suspect after the victim gave a partial license plate number, and caught a criminal who skipped out on a mandatory visit with a probation officer. Milwaukee's Fire-and-Police Commission says it will create a more formal policy this month on the use of the readers. The policy would include guidelines on usage -- and who can see the data.

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