Washtenaw County sheriff considering Ypsilanti Township license plate readers -- What to know

The Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office is seeking community input about license plate readers in Ypsilanti Township.

The township currently does not have license plate readers, and there is no set plan to implement them. However, the sheriff's office, which provides contracted policing services to the township, is considering adding them in areas around the city.

License plate readers capture images of plates on passing vehicles, so police know which vehicles have been in a certain area and when.

Other cities in Michigan utilize this technology. For example, Roseville City Council recently voted to install 10 of the cameras.

Officials in Washtenaw County began exploring license plate readers several years ago after a township employee brought up the idea of them. Before authorities move forward with any plans, Sheriff Jerry Clayton wants to meet with community members to discuss planned use and address concerns.

Related: Chesterfield police add cameras to ID stolen cars, vehicles involved in crimes

While readers can help police solve crimes, some people are critical of the technology.

Several criticisms about license plate readers include stereotyping fears, worries about how data is being stored, and concerns about surveillance of innocent people.

Worries about reader misuse even led to the American Civil Liberties Union proposing guidelines that law enforcement agencies should follow if they choose to implement the technology. 

This includes ensuring the readers are only used by law enforcement agencies and data is not shared; reporting usage to the public; and not storing data on innocent people.

According to Derrick Jackson, the director of Community Engagement with the WCSO, the license plate readers would only be used for investigative purposes after a major crime.

He said they would not be live-monitored, and deputies would only check a reader if a major crime was committed nearby. Then, investigators could use the readers to see where a suspect vehicle may have traveled after the crime.

Jackson said this use of readers would be similar to what deputies use cameras that are already in Ypsilanti Township for.

Some police agencies have license plate readers in their patrol vehicles that continually scan the plates of vehicles they pass. Jackson said the sheriff's office does not have this technology, which has raised many concerns about tracking and surveillance in other areas. 

Since a decision about the readers hasn't been made, the office is still hashing out details.

When the sheriff's office considers new technology, it hosts Community Education Series discussions. Jackson said these discussions were also held when the office was considering body worn cameras.

The first discussion for the license plate readers will be held Wednesday, April 13 at 6 p.m. via Facebook Live. Clayton will share more information about how the sheriff's office would use the readers during that event. Join here.

If Clayton decides to add license plate readers in Ypsilanti Township, the office's policy for use will be posted online with other policies, such as body cam procedures.