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Lexington's new license plate readers prove divisive in first mayoral debate

Josh James

Crime, policing, and the city's new license plate readers were all topics of debate at Lexington's first mayoral forum ahead of the May primary.

Unlike Mayor Gorton's first campaign for the job — a polite, pre-pandemic affair with few major disagreements between candidates — this contest is already showing signs of heating up. Especially on issues surrounding law enforcement.

Tuesday, the mayor's support of a license plate reader pilot program wasn't shared by other contenders for the top job.

"These cameras nationwide are a tool for police for evidence," Gorton argued. "They're not surveillance cameras."

Councilman David Kloiber suggested there is no "hard evidence" that the readers will benefit the city, adding that they will likely be placed in communities that are already "overpoliced."

Also skeptical, minister Adrian Wallace lamented a "lack of transparency" regarding the cameras.

"I don't believe that they're going to be used for what they say they're going to be used (for). I think that we should know where they are, and I believe that it is a threat to our privacy."
2022 Lexington mayoral candidate Adrian Wallace

Gorton and Police Chief Lawrence Weathers have been adamant that the cameras will only be used to snap images of plates and match them against a database of known wanted criminals, stolen vehicles, and the like — not for tracking individuals or handing out traffic tickets.

Despite the program being in its early stages, Gorton has already included money in her proposed budget to add 75 more readers for an total of 100 around town.

Police say the cameras have already yielded results, helping lead to arrests in domestic violence, animal cruelty, and stolen vehicle cases. But critics have raised concerns about how reader placement is decided and the lack of public information about their locations.

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.