License-plate reading cameras help Douglas County Sheriff’s solve crimes

The year-long pilot project places 25 of the cameras around the unincorporated areas of Douglas County.
The sheriff's office says they've already proven to be a useful tool for fighting crime.
Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 10:17 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Just over two weeks after new license-plate reading cameras were installed in Douglas County, the sheriff’s office says they’re already proving to be a useful tool in their crime-fighting toolbox.

“If you drive through the camera, it will take a snapshot of your license plate, then it will send that to a database for stolen vehicles, or any kind of vehicle that we enter into the system that we may be looking for,” Chief Deputy Wayne Hudson with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office explains.

The year-long pilot project places 25 of the cameras around the unincorporated areas of Douglas County.

“Once that signal comes back, let’s say [the car] is stolen, it will send a signal to the patrol deputies and let them know that this vehicle came through this camera at a certain time.”

The project is an attempt to help Douglas County solve more crimes. Just two weeks into the pilot, Chief Deputy Hudson says it’s working.

The office has already solved four stolen car cases.

“And in one vehicle a firearm was recovered, and two people were arrested in that case, another one was a stolen vehicle and two people were arrested, the third one was a stolen vehicle and one person was arrested, and the fourth one was a stolen vehicle and that person wasn’t arrested but they were identified,” Hudson says.

“Some people may say, ‘well it’s just a stolen vehicle.’ It may just be a stolen vehicle to some, but to some other people who don’t have a second vehicle and rely on that vehicle to get to their employment, it’s a critical need.”

In August, the Sheriff’s Office sought permission from Omaha City Council to place 10 of the 25 cameras just inside city limits—parts of town that were still within their jurisdiction.

But the request was met with concerns.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of mistrust in the public as to what this is going to lead to,” said Councilmember Don Rowe.

“I want to provide law enforcement with all the tools that you need, all the training that you need this may be going a little too far for me,” Councilmember Aimee Melton added.

The ACLU of Nebraska wrote a testimony letter to Omaha’s City Council in August opposing the issue.

The letter states, “This agreement will facilitate the large-scale police and government surveillance of all individuals in Omaha who travel along the license plate reader systems. Many cameras capture pedestrians or non-motorists who happen to be near the camera as well. It is a furtherance of a trend of high-tech solutions to routine policing that implicates significant privacy concerns of innocent people in Omaha, along with broadening of governmental use of license plate reader systems and similar technology.”

County officials later withdrew the request, instead placing the remaining 10 cameras in other areas of the county.

Chief Deputy Hudson says the cameras are perfectly safe and secure. They don’t track your car, and all information in the camera system is deleted after 30 days, he says.

“We would have to enter a stolen vehicle and a wanted vehicle in the database, if nothing is in there, then nothing comes back,” Hudson adds.

If the pilot is successful, Hudson says the Sheriff’s Office is hopeful that the technology could later be installed in all sheriff’s office vehicles, too.

Read the full letter testimony to Omaha City Council.