Sheriff’s new tool causes stir

When Bremer Bank was robbed in Princeton on Aug. 3, a Mille Lacs County squad car with a license plate reader (LPR) was used later that day to record every license plate in the town.

“It took about two hours-plus to crisscross the town and ‘map’ the entire town,” said Mille Lacs County Sheriff Brent Lindgren.

Now, because of a grant sought by Lindgren and approved by the County Board on Aug. 21, LPRs will soon be in use by Milaca, Princeton, Onamia and Isle police departments, and in a tribal police car.

Three LPRs are already in use in three county squad cars, with another to be installed soon when a new squad car arrives.

LPRs can scan each passing or parked vehicle and record the date, time and location of that vehicle.

For example, in Minneapolis there were 805,000 vehicles recorded in June by LPRs and 4.9 million to date this year.

Mille Lacs County is the only county in the area that  has LPRs, Lindgren said.

What he calls leading-edge technology is not without controversy, however, and Commissioner Dan Whitcomb had some questions for Lindgren at last week’s county board meeting.

He wanted to know how long Lindgren planned to retain the information recorded by the LPRs.

Lindgren answered that the information will be stored in the cars for 30 days and then uploaded to a server where the information will be kept in accordance with state law.

“Anything new to law enforcement can be controversial,” Lindgren said. “But we’re on the leading edge of technology.”

Lindgren talked with commissioners about the uses of LPRs and Whitcomb continued to ask questions.

He said the use of the LPR in Princeton the day of the bank robbery “makes an assumption that all cars in Princeton were guilty of a crime.”

And before commissioners approved the grant by passing a motion, Whitcomb said he would like to see a copy of the policy for retention of information.

In an interview Monday Lindgren gave an example of why it might be a good idea to retain information more than the 48 hours that Commissioner Whitcomb mentioned.

If there was a child abduction the sheriff might call in the vehicles with LPRs to map the entire area of that abduction, he said.

“We might be able to confirm that a predatory offender was in that area,” Lindgren said.

The LPRs already in county vehicles were paid for with a grant of $182,000 from the Minnesota Department of Commerce and the grant approved last week was for $125,000. That grant will pay for a server and the five LPRs to be spread throughout cities in the county.

For the full story, see the Thursday, Aug. 30 print edition of the Times.