By

Cedric Dent Jr.

Special to the News

Mt. Juliet’s use of automated license plate readers has already led to an arrest even before they could be deployed citywide, and the arrest serves as a proof-of-concept for the city.

One of the test units deployed to demonstrate how automated license plate readers can and will be used in Mt. Juliet tagged a vehicle in connection with a warrant for the arrest of an alleged shooter from Franklin. This led police to pursue and apprehend the suspect while he was in Mt. Juliet.

The 35-year-old suspect, Gabriel Jordan, was considered armed and dangerous after allegedly shooting at his estranged wife in the Cool Springs area on Dec. 21. He fled east in a black, 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander, which Franklin police promptly announced with an offering for a cash reward. He entered Mt. Juliet, and his license plate was recognized by one of the test license plate readers.

The readers are essentially high-speed cameras assisted by artificial intelligence designed for pattern recognition. The AI recognizes license plates in particular — tagging plates that have certain state logos, letters and numbers in specific combinations.

“The vehicle [Jordan] was driving was the suspect vehicle associated with his wanted entry,” MJPD Capt. Tyler Chandler said. “When the tag passes under a camera, the only information we receive is that it is in a hotlist for a certain category. In this case: ‘Wanted Person.’”

A hotlist is a catalog of license plates that are all associated with either wanted persons or ongoing criminal investigations. According to Chandler, once Jordan’s plate was recognized, it was up to dispatch and officers to cross-reference Jordan’s license plate with a database in order to get personal data and other details that correlated with the vehicle.

“No personal data is transmitted or received through the system,” Chandler said. “It simply reads the public tag and checks if it is on a hotlist.”

While this confirms the efficacy of such technology to apprehend criminals, the readers have become a point of controversy in other states and cities on the basis of transparency. For that very reason, an ordinance appeared before the Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners for its first reading in late August to pass both readings within the next month regarding how long law enforcement can retain information on vehicles connected to hotlists.

At the time, Vice Mayor James Maness expressed concerns about 16 different states, including Texas, that were already seeing use and arguably abuse of this technology to keep information on innocent civilians and for extended periods sometimes measured in years. Commissioners were eager to see to it that Mt. Juliet had no similar issues.

Tennessee already took steps to preempt perceived violations of privacy with license plate readers by legislating a maximum 90-day retention period for data captured by the readers, but Mt. Juliet went even further, alowwing retention for up to only 30 days.

Furthermore, “There is no data stored on any civilian,” Chandler said. He said that the system “only stores the tag and video of the traffic, which is accessed during a criminal investigation.”