License Plates Often Photographed by Police in Northern Va. Cities

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Northern Virginia Bureau reporter David Culver reports on Alexandria police tracking whereabouts of drivers by snapping pictures of their license plates.

    A reporter found herself at the center of a story when she uncovered someone had been tracking her movements over a 6-month period.

    WatchDog.org reporter Kathryn Watson asked for a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the government -- which returned more than a dozen photos of her car and license plate.

    Watson kept digging and found out police are tracking anyone driving through Alexandria in similar ways.

    "[I realized], 'Wow. This isn't just that this is happening somewhere to some people, this was actually my car that was photographed,'" Watson said.

    More than a dozen Alexandria police cars have License Plate Readers (LPR) snapping photos of every tag they read.

    "[They took] 16 different photos of my car, over 8 different occasions and that was really fascinating," Watson said. "That was a little bit shocking."

    Alexandria police say LPRs are a great investigative tool, though they may cause discomfort for some residents. According to Crystal Nosal with the department, the records are kept even if they're not immediately linked to a crime.

    "We don't know what crimes are going to occur and when they're going to happen," Nosal said. "We don't know when we're going to need that information until a crime occurs."

    The LPR helped track down a suspected robber this year, Nosal said. The data is kept for six months, then purged from the department's system.

    Almost all police departments in Northern Virginia either use or are looking into the use of LPRs.

    Some Virginia lawmakers say they hope to limit the amount of time the personal data is saved.

    If you want to see if your license plate has been photographed, click here for more information on how to submit a FOIA request.