The Town of Colonie recently received a grant to purchase police equipment that officers hope will help fight crime by gathering large amounts of data and storing it so they can pinpoint where a vehicle was in the event of a crime.
On Thursday, July 24, the Town Board approved the acceptance of a $50,000 grant to purchase fixed license plate readers that will be placed on Fuller Road to monitor traffic going in and out of the city of Albany.
The resolution would allow the town to enter a grant contract for one year with the New York State Operation IMPACT Tools. The contract would be retroactive for July 1. After the year expires, the town will have to pay for the operating cost of the equipment.
Town Attorney Michael Maggiulli said the license plate readers do not target specific vehicles or people but instead collect data from every car that travels down Fuller Road.
“In the event where something goes on, where they believe a suspect’s car may have gone through the area, they can hopefully get the plate number and catch the culprit,” said Maggiulli.
Over the years, there has been increased scrutiny from the public on about how much surveillance is too much surveillance, and Colonie Police Chief Steven Heider said he is well aware of that.
“We’re aware of the issues and publicity. We’ve read the articles and the studies. Even the ALCU has issues with how long the plates should be stored, whether it’s one year or five years,” said Heider. “The data will be stored on the server for a five-year period. After the five years, we can’t gain access to it without a court order. So, that would be for serious crimes like a murder or a sex offender.”
Heider also said that this isn’t a new thing for the Colonie Police Department, as it was one of the first in the area to get the plate readers on cars six or seven years ago. Niskayuna and other police departments were given grants at the same time as Colonie.
The information from the Fuller Road plate readers will be stored at the Albany Crime Analysis Center and is only looked at in the event of a crime when the police are looking for a specific person or license plate number. There are strict rules on who is able to look at the data, as well.
“There’s no reason to look at it unless you have to. You can program it to look for stolen vehicles or sex offenders. It’s not like we’re going in there every day and looking for Steve Heider or tracking the movements of Steve Heider,” said Heider. “It’s a sign of the times. It helps to solve crime, but it doesn’t prevent crime and doesn’t solve it alone.”
Heider said the information can exonerate people too, adding that he believes the new equipment will be a real asset in fighting crime.
“This is huge amounts of data. It’s not like someone is sitting there looking for 25,000 plates a day. If there is a crime and someone only has a partial plate number, we can filter through the data to find plates that match,” said Heider.