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WYDOT mulling camera installation

A camera mounted on a sign pole on Snow King Avenue is one of 15 collecting photos of license plates around town. The images are then run through a database to track stolen cars or locate vehicles linked to individuals wanted by law enforcement.

• Jackson’s request to use state infrastructure to track license plates is a ‘first,’ WYDOT said.


By Kate Ready
Jackson Hole News&Guide
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — Whether Jackson can install more license plate cameras to fight crime is in the hands of the state.

Flock Group Inc. and the Jackson Police Department have been negotiating with the Wyoming Department of Transportation since September in the hopes of installing 12 more cameras on WYDOT infrastructure at key highway outposts. However, two Teton County lawmakers said the installation should wait for buy-in from the Legislature.

The cameras, 15 of which were installed in November, compare plate numbers against those of stolen cars or wanted individuals in crime databases.

For WYDOT, the request to install license plate cameras on their property is a first. The agency made clear that in mulling a decision, they are not wading into the debate around the technology. Some citizens, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, have expressed privacy concerns.

“We’re not trying to regulate automatic license plate readers,” Wyoming Highway Patrol Colonel Timothy Cameron said. “It’s the use of the right-of-way, which happens to be a request for an LPR, which we’ve never had before.”

A highway right-of-way is the strip of property, owned by the state, that includes a highway and buffers alongside.

Fifteen cameras have been active within town limits, as well as two portable cameras, since Nov. 13. One more camera is awaiting installation in addition to the pending request to install the remaining dozen on WYDOT property.

“This is all brand new to WYDOT; this is the first request we’ve received,” said Tom DeHoff, WYDOT’s assistant chief engineer of operations. “[Cameron] and I are developing that process, working with the director and chief engineer.”

Cameron said he’s using the International Association of Chiefs of Police recommended best practices around LPRs as a “guide” for what WYDOT will request from agencies who wish to use WYDOT’s infrastructure for the cameras going forward.

From his discussions with Jackson Police Chief Michelle Weber, “they meet all of those best practices,” Cameron said. Cameron’s role is to develop a checklist, he said, to ensure WYDOT is operating within national standards.

“We’re trying to establish a policy so we’re consistent statewide,” he said.

Best practices include how cameras are used, the length of time information can be retained and who can access it.

Neither Cameron nor DeHoff could give a timeline for WYDOT’s decision.

“We want to make sure we get it right for everyone concerned,” Cameron said.

Cameron said he hails from Maryland, where license plate cameras are regulated by state statute. Legislatures in Colorado and Utah also have implemented statewide laws governing which agencies can use them and under what circumstances.

Two state lawmakers said that while the Jackson Town Council has authority to approve the cameras in town, erecting them on state infrastructure should require buy-in from the Legislature.

“Anything outside the town should require state statute before we put up cameras,” Rep. Mike Yin said.

Sen. Mike Gierau agreed. “I think the Legislature probably is going to want to weigh in on this,” he said.

In 2021, Gierau introduced a committee bill, Senate File 3, that would have installed cameras on Teton Pass to ticket violators of seasonal trailer restrictions. That was “torpedoed,” Gierau said, following Big Brother concerns.

“Boy, when I got [the bill] to the House, it just died,” Gierau said. “That’s my experience with this sort of thing.”

If the Legislature took up the issue, Yin pointed to SF 3’s death and said it would likely be an “uphill climb.”

Yin said he wasn’t for the cameras, while Gierau said he didn’t see a problem with them.

WYDOT Director Darin Westby said that since the camera requests are within city limits and no legislation yet exists for license plate readers, “we feel this is an issue for city leaders.”

“We will continue to work with our partners on camera placement within WYDOT rights of way so long as the equipment does not interrupt or interfere with WYDOT operations or public safety,” Westby said.

Police say the technology already has proven useful.

Police Chief Weber said the cameras were used in early December when agencies were looking for Jeremy Best, who ultimately was charged with three counts of murder.

Officers have used the cameras to try to find suspects in domestic violence cases who fled after 911 was called.

Anytime there’s a criminal investigation, law enforcement agencies can use the Flock cameras, according to the town policy governing their use. The Teton County Sheriff’s Office has requested information from the Flock system “two or three times,” Sgt. John Faicco said, via a request form.

Weber previously said the cameras act as a deterrent to crime while also saving investigative resources.

The cameras are linked to the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC — a database where missing persons, amber alerts, stolen vehicles and wanted persons are stored — which pinged the agency on March 29 when a 50-year-old Wisconsin man, listed as a missing person, was spotted by one of the town’s cameras.

Grand Teton National Park picked him up. It turned out he had a warrant for his arrest due to a probation violation, and he was arrested.

Lt. Russ Ruschill of the Jackson Police Department calls that NCIC notification a “hit” that shows up in officers’ email inboxes. But it’s not always a crime.

In October, Ruschill got a “hit” for a vehicle stolen from the Jackson Hole airport. “It wasn’t stolen; it was a Turo mistake,” Ruschill said, referring to a car-sharing company.

Ruschill contacted a confused family in the Home Ranch parking lot. The visitors explained that they mistook the Black SUV they picked up at the airport for their rental car.

In November, a town press release announced public access to Flock’s Safety Transparency Portal, with types of data collected, acceptable use of data, prohibited uses and an access policy for external organizations. That process is currently held up in the town of Jackson’s legal department, Lt. Russ Ruschill said.

Cheyenne uses license plate cameras for parking enforcement, as do many states. Casper also mulled the technology recently, Cameron said.

“I think there’s great potential as a crime fighting tool, and I think that’s what Jackson will showcase,” he said.

As for whether the state will green light installing cameras along highways, that decision could depend on the Legislature.


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