This Johnson County city is installing cameras, license plate readers at 10 intersections

·4 min read

Mission Hills hopes to have 10 intersections outfitted with cameras or license plate readers by the end of the summer.

The city has been installing cameras and automatic license plate readers at key intersections to help police solve crime, said Capt. Ivan Washington with the Prairie Village Police Department, which contracts with Mission Hills for police services.

“The purpose of the initiative is to help as an investigative tool to provide tips or leads to the investigation division to hopefully be able to bring criminal cases to a positive resolution,” Washington said.

The cameras will also allow the department to monitor traffic patterns. If there’s an uptick in traffic crashes and fatalities, the city would be able to do research to see if there’s something that could be done to reduce them.

The devices have been installed at several intersections, but the plan is to continue to build out the system. By the end of the summer, the city hopes to have the equipment installed at 10 locations.

The intersections that are equipped with cameras or license plate readers or both include 55th Street and State Line Road, Tomahawk Road and State Line, 63rd Street and State Line, Tomahawk and Mission Road, and 63rd and Mission.

The installation for the rest is expected to begin next week. Washington declined to release those locations in case plans change and different intersections are chosen.

‘Effective tool for solving crimes’

Mission Hills has been looking into camera and license plate readers since at least June 2021, according to City Council agendas.

In a document from Prairie Village Police Chief Byron Roberson accompanying the June 14, 2021, meeting agenda, the department said the devices were becoming increasingly common throughout the country.

“Traffic Cameras and ALPR’s have already proven to be effective tools for solving crimes in Prairie Village,” according to the department. “They can also act as a crime prevention tool, since many criminals have learned to recognize them, and will go elsewhere to commit crimes.”

The department noted that Mission Hills already had a mobile license plate reader on one of its patrol vehicles. When license plate readers are placed at major intersections, they automatically compare license plates to a database of plates that are wanted or have warrants associated with them. The plate readers alert law enforcement when there’s a match.

The readers store information for 30 days, allowing investigators to search them when they are investigating crimes.

The police department raised the possibility that the public may have privacy concerns about the cameras and license plate readers. The department noted that the plate readers only capture photographs of license plates and the only time identifying information is used is if the photo matches information on a “hotlist.”

“We are not using those cameras to intrude upon people’s privacy,” Washington said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, however, has advocated against automatic license plate readers saying they have potential to create permanent records of virtually everywhere a person drives.

“The tracking of people’s location constitutes a significant invasion of privacy, which can reveal many things about their lives, such as what friends, doctors, protests, political events, or churches a person may visit,” according to a report by the ACLU.

Once the devices have been installed at the 10 intersections in Mission Hills, the city will study to see how they affect crime reduction efforts as well as how the community embraces the devices.

License plate readers have been installed at the intersection of 63rd Street and Mission Road in Mission Hills.
License plate readers have been installed at the intersection of 63rd Street and Mission Road in Mission Hills.

Over a decade of use in KC area

Mission Hills is not alone in turning to this technology. Overland Park along with other surrounding municipalities in the Kansas City area have used the technology as early as 2015, said Officer John Lacy, a spokesman for the Overland Park Police Department.

Overland Park police have several vehicles in its patrol division equipped with license plate readers as well as some in stationary locations in strategic areas within its city limits.

“In the commission of a crime, if the suspect vehicle leaves a nearby jurisdiction into our city and the LPR captures the tag, we will assist that agency upon request (with direction of travel),” Lacy said. The information collected is not shared with private businesses or the public.

They also use it to help find vehicles that are the subject of Amber Alerts and to identify stolen vehicles and license tags.

Kansas City police began using the technology in 2010 and now it has license plate readers and cameras all across the city, said Sgt. Jacob Becchina, a spokesman for the Kansas City Police Department.

He declined to say how many cameras and license plate readers it has at its intersections and how they are used, saying that information is not public and is law enforcement sensitive.

Many of the agencies partner with each other to share data so that investigators can generate leads in criminal investigations and possibly get a license plate number or photo of a vehicle involved in a crime, Washington said.

“It’s a great investigative tool that is shared metro wide,” he said.

License plate readers have been installed at the intersection of One KC Way and 63rd Street in Mission Hills.
License plate readers have been installed at the intersection of One KC Way and 63rd Street in Mission Hills.