4
| Crime |

Miami Beach's License-Plate Readers Caused Traffic but Caught Few Criminals

The Miami Beach Police Department scanned more than 36,000 license plates over Memorial Day weekend.EXPAND
The Miami Beach Police Department scanned more than 36,000 license plates over Memorial Day weekend.
^
Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Miami and help keep the future of New Times free.

For the past several years, Miami Beach Police have been using automatic license-plate readers to scan each and every car traveling to the city over Memorial Day weekend — an effort known to cause bumper-to-bumper traffic on the MacArthur and Julia Tuttle Causeways. While critics say the technology is unnecessary at best and an invasion of privacy at worst, police have argued the license-plate readers help catch wanted criminals and track down stolen vehicles.

This year's numbers from the holiday weekend, however, show the vast majority of drivers were just regular, law-abiding citizens. This morning, MBPD released Memorial Day license-plate reader statistics — and despite the dragnet approach, police made only a handful of arrests.

Over the four days from Friday to Monday, Miami Beach cops scanned more than 36,000 license plates but issued just 303 criminal tickets. And the number of arrests was even smaller: Police made 13 for felonies and 11 for misdemeanors.

In the meantime, drivers sat in traffic on the two main causeways into South Beach so police could methodically scan their license plates. On the MacArthur, which has been under construction for about a year, the license-plate readers forced all eastbound cars into just one lane:

As license-plate readers have become more prevalent in American policing, privacy advocates have questioned the use of the technology, which is capable of capturing a photo of every car traveling past the camera. The images are stored in a law enforcement database for months or even years.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been highly critical of license-plate readers, which the organization says enable the government to track private citizens' movements. The New Civil Liberties Alliance, a D.C.-based nonprofit law firm that has also spoken out against the technology, is representing a Coral Gables man in a lawsuit against that city, which has one of the largest plate-reading operations in Florida.

Elsewhere across the nation, the cameras have been the source of much debate. The City of San Francisco recently tightened restrictions on license-plate readers after a woman's car was mistakenly identified as stolen and she was arrested. Just last month, a Virginia judge ruled that passive collection of license-plate data is a violation of state law. And last week, it was revealed that hackers had breached the databases of one of the largest providers of license-plate readers in the United States.

Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.