The Tennessee Conservative [By Adelia Kirchner] –
On Wednesday, the Hamilton County Commission unanimously voted to accept a $1.2 million state grant for the purposes of purchasing and installing 122 new license plate reader cameras (LPRs).
The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office will receive 59 of these cameras for unincorporated parts of the county.
Signal Mountain is slated to receive the remaining six cameras. However, the Town Council has not yet officially accepted the state grant due to privacy concerns.
During the November 15th meeting, county resident Rick Walser, spoke in opposition of the LPRs.
“Can’t we use that money on something other than a citizen surveillance tool that’s going to track every movement?” asked Walser.
Hamilton County Sheriff Austin Garrett also spoke at the meeting and said that the state grant can only be used for the cameras.
The Sheriff went on to say that the LPRs don’t invade privacy but are a tool for law enforcement to better mitigate crime.
“It’s not overreach,” said Garrett. “One of the reasons I was elected by the people in this county was to be efficient, be a visionary, and implement ideas and methods to reduce crime. This does that.”
Currently, all patrol vehicles with the Sheriff’s Office are equipped with an LPR according to Garrett.
Regarding privacy concerns, Sheriff Garret said that locals shouldn’t really expect privacy while out in public.
“You’re in the public eye. Your car’s in the public eye,” said Garrett. “You have no expectation of privacy on that tag. Inside your car, you do. Inside your home, you do. On your person, you do.”
Commissioner Gene-o Shipley (R-Soddy-Daisy) has also previously stated that the only privacy being “interrupted” by LPRs is the privacy of “people that probably need to be in jail or are going to go to jail anyway.”
Commissioner Chip Baker (R-Signal Mountain) said that he sees the cameras as simply an extension of what deputies already do.
“You’re just automating that process,” said Baker.
Still, many Tennesseans worry that the installation of even more LPRs only furthers the possibility of their hometowns turning into “surveillance cities,” and with Chattanooga’s SMART City initiatives and similar plans being considered in other Tennessee cities it’s no wonder.
The Hamilton County Commission’s decision comes shortly after the removal of LPRs across the City of Nashville.
The cameras were installed in Nashville as part of a six-month pilot program that ended over three months ago. They were only recently taken down after Councilmember Emily Benedict made an official proposal to do so.
Reportedly, the Nashville Department of Transportation did end up removing the LPRs without the council having to take action.
About the Author: Adelia Kirchner is a Tennessee resident and reporter for the Tennessee Conservative. Currently the host of Subtle Rampage Podcast, she has also worked for the South Dakota State Legislature and interned for Senator Bill Hagerty’s Office in Nashville, Tennessee. You can reach Adelia at email@example.com.