A diverse and bipartisan group of elected prosecutors from every corner of Virginia has filed a brief in the Virginia Supreme Court this week in a case that challenged the legality of an important public safety tool called "Automatic License Plate Readers." Commonwealth's Attorneys Fuller Cridlin of Lee County and Chuck Slemp of Wise County are two of the 67 individuals who have joined in the brief.
The case, Fairfax County Police Department v. Neal, is an appeal from a decision in Northern Virginia in which a Circuit Court permanently enjoined the Fairfax County Police Department from passive collection, storage and use of Automatic License Plate Readers data. Many police departments across the Commonwealth and nation mount cameras on police vehicles – known as Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR) – which capture images of license plates on passing vehicles. The license plate number captured in the image, along with the time, date, and location where the image was taken, can then be used actively or passively by law enforcement.
ALPRs are effective and important tools for public safety officials. The brief filed by Cridlin, Slemp, and other prosecutors outlined several examples in which ALPR systems were utilized to locate a fugitive, gain evidence, and stop criminal activities in a variety of situations.
Examples of ALPR use highlighted in the brief include a suspected burglar whose license plate was captured near some of the ATMs he was accused of prying open, a suspected serial bank robber whose license plate was identified from a bank's surveillance camera and whose path was mapped with the help of ALPR, a home invasion in which the suspect was alleged to have pointed a gun at children, an elderly person with dementia who takes off with the family car and becomes disoriented, a kidnapped child taken from a birthday party, a teenager running away to unsuspectingly meet an online predator, and – most dramatically – the 2015 case of Vester Lee Flanagan, who murdered two members of a morning news team live on camera and then fled from police for approximately five hours before being located on the interstate through the use of ALPR technology.
Commonwealth's Attorney Chuck Slemp said, "I am honored to stand with law enforcement and join other prosecutors from every corner of Virginia in this important case. Although this matter initially originated in northern Virginia, it has the potential to impact law enforcement efforts here in our region in southwest Virginia as well. I hope that the Court will thoughtfully consider our brief and recognize the ways this technology is utilized by first responders in emergency situations to safeguard the public."
Commonwealth's Attorney Fuller Cridlin said, "It is important for prosecutors from across the Commonwealth to unite together for the common good and to protect our community against dangerous precedents that hinder the ability of law enforcement to serve justice for victims of crime."
Press Release Commonwealth Attorneys on Automated License Plate Readers
September 2nd, 2019 Rob