Police look to use license plate readers in Ypsilanti to curb crime

Many residents oppose new tool due to privacy concerns

YPSILANTI TOWNSHIP, Mich. – A new crime-fighting tool in Ypsilanti Township has some people concerned about privacy.

The Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office is presenting a plan to use license plate readers to help fight crime.

Close to 200 people weighed in, in real-time as law enforcement officials were doing their pitch on how and in what capacity the technology would be used.

“Our problem we’re trying to solve with everyone else is community safety, well-being being challenged on a variety of levels. Nationally and locally, we’re concerned about the increase in violent crime,” said Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton.

Clayton believes license plate readers could help deputies track down offenders of violent crimes.

Right now, the sheriff’s office, which polices Ypsilanti Township, is trying to determine if the technology is a good fit -- but they didn’t want to explore the option without public input, and there was a lot of it.

“It seems that we overwhelmingly do not want it,” said Shalina Maple. “So, if you are truly concerned with what the people want, there’s your answer, and we can stop this project now.”

LPR cameras would not be used for surveillance or to record videos, officials said. The camera itself would sit dormant until a car passes by. As it does, the camera would capture a still image of it.

Deputies say the images would be used in cases where there is a vehicle description in certain kinds of crimes. The images would not be used in tracking down offenders of low-level offenses.

“People are afraid to walk in West Willow or move here because of crime, and I’m hoping this will help solve crimes and make it safer in my neighborhood,” Joann McCollum said.

The cameras, if used, would be purchased by the township. Officials say the data gathered would be encrypted and stored on a cloud that police agencies would only use.

Sharman Spieser is hoping residents can intervene.

“Sounds like if Ypsi Township residents say no to all the township leaders loudly and clearly, we can stop this from happening,” Spieser said.

In addition to getting feedback from residents in the community, the sheriff’s office plans on having discussions with the ACLU to discuss some of the greater privacy concerns that were brought up during Wednesdays discussion.

About the Authors:

Pamela Osborne is thrilled to be back home at the station she grew up watching! You can watch her on Local 4 News Sundays and weeknights. Pamela joined the WDIV News Team in February 2022, after working at stations in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.