By Andrew Ganz
Thursday, Nov 8th, 2012 @ 9:16 am
 

An affluent suburb of Houston, Texas, is planning to spend up to $2.9 million on license plate cameras that will be installed at major intersections that enter and exit the city limits.

The Sugar Land city council says that the cameras will help its police department keep track of suspicious or wanted vehicle movements.

"If a crime occurs, we can go back and capture that information and hopefully catch a criminal," Sugar Land Assistance Police Chief Erick Robins told Houston CBS affiliate KHOU.

The cameras are designed to zero in on license plates, but they will also show pertinent details about a vehicle - the make, model and color, for example. The data they pick up will be kept for 10 days before being automatically erased, so any crimes committed will need to be investigated fairly quickly for the cameras to be effective. It's unclear whether the Sugar Land police department intends to use the cameras to actively seek vehicles wanted in connection with earlier crimes or those not committed within its city limits, although the city has stated that the cameras will not be used to pursue drivers who owe fines and fees.

The cameras will not be actively monitored by a "command center" and Sugar Land officials have repeatedly referred to them as "passive investigation tools."

Initially, the city will spend $1.3 million install 80 license plate recognition cameras on major roads and highways that lead into and out of the city. If the effort is deemed successful, the city intends to up that number to about 205 cameras covering every entrance to the sprawling suburb southwest of Houston. The second effort will run $1.6 million

The effort has raised the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union, which cited nearby Houston's poorly-received red light camera initiative.

"Just as the City of Houston didn't like red light cameras, I think the people of Sugar Land may want to consider what this means in terms of the ability to track everyday citizens' every move in and around Sugar Land," ACLU spokeswoman Dotty Griffith said.

Houston voted to remove all of its red light cameras about two years ago.