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Lexington police see early successes with license plate cameras, but should the public be privy to their placement?

Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers takes questions on the city's new license plate reader cameras on April 18, 2022.
Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers takes questions on the city's new license plate reader cameras on April 18, 2022.

Lexington police are already reporting success stories in tracking down offenders using new cameras tracking license plates, but there has been pushback against the department’s decision not to release information about camera locations.

The plate readers are part of a yearlong pilot program. So far, 9 of 25 total cameras have been installed and police say they have enabled law enforcement to locate suspects in domestic violence, animal cruelty, and stolen vehicle cases.

"We're not even fully implemented with our pilot yet and we're already starting to see success stories come in just right and left."
Lt. Matthew Greathouse

The cameras work by checking images of plates against a “hotlist” – or database meant to alert police to known wanted criminals, repeat DUI offenders, and stolen vehicles. The department has been adamant the cameras will not be used to track speed or red light violations.

While police say the cameras are being placed in areas with the highest reported patterns of crime, they’ve stopped short of giving out those locations. That’s led some residents to try to track down and publicize that information on their own.

Police Chief Lawrence Weathers’ message to them: "I can't stop them from doing that, but if the whole reason for us doing it is to reduce crime, I'd like them to really think about who's actually being affected by that. You're talking about potential victims and people who have been victims that are being adversely affected by that."

Despite the pilot project being in its early stages, Mayor Linda Gorton has already announced she’ll be including more money for the cameras in his fiscal year 2023 budget proposal, to be unveiled in full on Tuesday. Asked why so soon, Gorton said the pilot program would run out before next year’s budget and she wants to have the money in place, assuming the cameras continue to yield results.

Police expect to have all 25 cameras in place by the end of May.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.