Mississippi Power is on schedule to install License Plate Readers (LPRs) in Diamondhead next week.
At its May 21 meeting, the Diamondhead City Council voted 4-2 to enter into a service agreement with Mississippi Power for the license plate recognition hardware, software and maintenance for a 60-month term, at a cost of $1,265 monthly.
"What a great thing," Diamondhead Mayor Thomas E. "Tommy" Schafer, IV, said this week. "I'm glad the city council voted for it, and I voted for it to keep Diamondhead a whole lot safer. We've been working on this since 2015. … Homeland Security will monitor the system, with access by the Mississippi Highway Patrol, as I understand it.
"It's for the public health and safety. … LPRs are used throughout the United States. They've been a tremendous tool to combat human trafficking, drug trafficking and the movement of people wanted on felony warrants. Diamondhead as a planned unit development -- though not originally filed as such -- is uniquely designed to make tremendous use of license plate readers fore the public health and safety of our community. It's endorsed by nearly law enforcement agency in the country, including the Hancock County Sheriff's Office."
Not everyone is as supportive of the LPRs.
Diamondhead City Council members Nancy Depreo and Alan Moran voted against the contract in May.
"I understand the importance of having the tag readers placed on the interstate to help with law enforcement procedures," Moran said this week, "but I do not understand the reasoning behind them being placed on Kapalama Drive in the back of Diamondhead. I voted 'no' because most of my constituents are not in favor of this. This is something that probably should have been placed on the November General Election Ballot for the people to vote on."
The automated license plate recognition devices use small, high-speed cameras to photograph plates. The information captured by the readers – including the license plate number, and the date, time and location of every scan – is collected and sometimes pooled into regional sharing systems, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has gone on record with reservations about the system.
"(E)normous databases of innocent motorists' location information are growing rapidly," according to an ACLU report. "This information is often retained for years or even indefinitely, with few or no restrictions to protect privacy rights."
Schafer said he understands people's concerns, but feels most of those worries are unfounded.
"These cameras don't take pictures of whose driving the car, or how they're driving. We're not sending you speeding tickets through the mail. … This is for abducted children, Amber Alerts, Silver Alerts, and it works nationwide.
"I want to keep this community as safe as I possible can. And it's amazingly cheap. It's very inexpensive.
"We have a good community, here. If you don't have felony warrants, if you're not doing anything wrong, you've got nothing to worry about."
City officials said all of the LPR equipment is tentatively scheduled to be installed by June 28.