New Hialeah Surveillance Camera System Takes Car Tag Photos in High-Traffic Areas

The snapshots collected are stored on a protected city hard drive for at least a year

When South Florida drivers hit the roads, they never truly know how close they could come to a crime or a criminal. But now, the answer could lie in a license plate picture.

"725,000 chances I'm going to have to find someone," Hialeah Police Lt. Joe DeJesus told NBC 6 as he looked over his laptop.

A new surveillance camera system spearheaded by DeJesus in Hialeah has turned up more than 700,000 car tag photos since launching Jan. 27. Many of the snapshots are connected with drivers with expired licenses, though sometimes, stolen tags and cars are red-flagged too with "high alerts."

DeJesus invited NBC 6 on a ridealong in his unmarked vehicle, also outfitted with cameras. The images taken are transmitted to his laptop in seconds.

On the ride, DeJesus spotted a driver of a car with a seven-year-old expired driver's license.

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Hialeah's cameras are less of a red light camera style, and more of a stand-alone, surveillance camera system stationed in high-traffic areas of Hialeah that police asked NBC 6 not to disclose. The system is valued around $200,000, and was all covered using federal funding, authorities said.

The snapshots collected are later stored on a protected city hard drive for at least a year. That, and many other parts of the camera system, is worrisome to Baylor Johnson of the American Civil Liberties Union, who finds that surveillance technology is outpacing the law.

"People have certain expectations of privacy as they go about their day," Johnson said. "They don't think when their passing through an intersection that there's a government database that says, 'aha, at this time you drove through this intersection.'"

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"You're going to have the goods and bads," DeJesus pointed out. "You're going to have the pros and the cons."

The cons, DeJesus admitted, maybe include a sense of privacy lost. But, the pros, he explained, could be a swift solution to a rash of crimes in Hialeah, like a Radio Shack smash and grab caught on surveillance video last week. DeJesus said if one of Hialeah's cameras caught the getaway car, it could speed up their investigation.

"I'll have the photograph with everything about the car, then it can be sent to other police officers," he said.

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