The Urbana Champaign Independent Media Center opposes the purchase of Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) by both the City of Urbana and the City of Champaign. We are deeply concerned about escalating gun violence in our community and urge our leaders to fund programs that address the root causes of local gun violence: poverty, inequity, fear, and lack of opportunity. We are concerned that both cities are misleading the community by presenting ALPRs as a solution to gun violence. In spite of both cities’ commitments to “data-driven solutions,” our councils are looking at ALPRs when resources are urgently needed for healing. As an organization committed to racial and media justice, we aim to bring attention to the extensive evidence that ALPRs have exacerbated harm, particularly to Black & Brown people.
We must confront the harm caused by ALPRs and hear the stories of those who have been impacted. In August of 2020, as reported by Gizmodo, the police pulled over a car with a Black family, including three children, who were made to lie down on their stomachs in a parking lot while some were handcuffed. The Colorado police used ALPR data that misidentified the family’s vehicle as a stolen car. Additional harm is caused when oversight and policy is violated or neglected. In Marin County, California, the sheriff shared ALPR data with ICE and in Port Arthur, Texas, where police used ALPR to collect overdue traffic tickets, which resulted in disproportionately jailing Black and poor folks for unpaid traffic tickets.
A 2019 article in Wired Magazine chronicles the lack of evidence behind Flock Safety’s track record in reducing crime and the rate of errors. The article notes that an estimate by Northern California Regional Intelligence Center puts the rate of incorrect readings at 10 percent. The statement by Ubuntu Project directs us to a 2020 report by the Brennan Center that cites a 2018 randomized control trial in Vallejo, California, that resulted in a 37 percent error rate. These errors can result in traumatic experiences, such as the Colorado incident, that threaten people’s safety and even endanger lives.
The Wired article cited a number of studies, only one specifically examined the impact of ALPRs on violent crime. Out of 3 academic studies and a pilot study in Cobb County, Georgia, two focus on non-violent crime, only one study refers to violent crime, and the pilot study doesn’t specify what kind of crime. In fact, the article notes that Flock Safety was founded with a focus on non-violent crime, not addressing gun violence.
We urge our neighbors, council members, and city leaders to consider this evidence against ALPRs and listen to a wide variety of voices, including the growing opposition to ALPRs from others in our community. The Ubuntu Project has put forth a well-researched statement illuminating important evidence that ALPRs have not been effective. We direct our neighbors to important statements opposing ALPRs by Smile Politely and Champaign Showers. And we support FirstFollowers’ solution-based approach to PREVENT gun violence that includes counseling, education, economic development, community outreach and civic engagement.
In conclusion, ALPRs are a seemingly “quick” and false solution that pour resources into tools of surveillance that deepen the discrimination, disconnection, and exclusion that Black and Brown residents face. In this way they exacerbate rather than solve the root causes of gun violence. We all want solutions to gun violence that heal and support our communities. We need to reject ALPRs and continue to work towards results-driven solutions that promote equity.