Grand Rapids looks at license plate readers for parking

Grand Rapids City Commission
The March 28, 2017 meeting of the Grand Rapids City Commission.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The rapid pace of developing technology is helping government streamline operations — but in many cases, it’s also raising concerns over whether your privacy is protected.

The latest example is the City of Grand Rapids’ effort to deploy a system to help better enforce parking rules. The Parking Services Department wants to buy a license plate reader system use to find parking violators.

With 10 parking ramps, 33 surface lots and 2,700 metered spots, parking enforcement officers have a lot to keep up with.

“Our on- and off-street parking facilities continue to grow,” Mobile GR & Parking Services Manager Josh Naramore told city commissioners at their Tuesday morning meeting.

So his department is taking a cue from the Grand Rapids Police Department, which began using plate reading technology in 2013. Cameras mounted to police cruisers can drive down the street reading license plates. A computer then flags any that may be connected to a crime.

For Parking Services, the system would allow checks on things like parking permits.

Naramore said the system he wants to use is less about enforcement and more about efficiency.

“Just to help keep those costs as low as possible for the customer as well as streamline operations,” he said.

But city commissioners tabled the issue on Tuesday.

“I’m curious to know what community engagement has transpired,” Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear said during the meeting.

She is among commissioners concerned there wasn’t enough public input on the type of system that almost always causes concern among civil libertarians.

“I think that any time we’re looking at acquiring any technology that will allow us to have access to private information, I think we owe it to the public to engage them in that,” Lenear said.

The city creates a policy any time it wants to buy a piece of equipment, like the plate reader system. In this case, that helped established a set of rules, including:

  • Plate information collected by Parking Services would not be shared with police or any other agency.
  • The information would be deleted after 24 hours.
  • Information gathered must be from customers already registered with Parking Services, as in the case of residential permit parking.

The policy did not recommend a public hearing. That may change if Lenear has her way.

“I think the more transparent we are to the community, the more they’ll trust us,” she said.

“Sure, we’re amenable to any of that,” Naramore said. “It’s really what’s the recommendation of the City Commission.”

The commission will revisit the issue and may add a public hearing date at its April 11 meeting.