OKLAHOMA CITY – State lawmakers are turning to some high-tech police work to stop a crime they said is plaguing the state of Oklahoma.
No other state has more uninsured drivers than the Sooner State, which has more than 550,000.
That’s about one in every four drivers.
“It affects everybody one way or another,” said Tyler Loughlin, chief of operations at the Oklahoma Insurance Department. “If you get in a wreck, how are you going to get compensated for the medical expenses you incur?”
State Sen. Corey Brooks (R-Garvin County) saw the problem and has pushed along the effort to solve it.
His bill would allow law enforcement to use automated license plate readers to monitor drivers and stop the uninsured, comparing their tags with an Oklahoma Insurance Department list.
“We all know somebody or has been somebody who has been in an accident with someone who doesn’t have insurance,” Brooks said. “It causes a lot of issues, plus it raises everybody’s insurance rates around the country.”
Some police units are already equipped with the readers.
The system of cameras relays information to an officer’s in-car computer, making a noise when it runs across something of note.
The Oklahoma City Police Department most commonly uses the readers to find stolen cars and track vehicles involved in things like Amber Alerts.
After a man murdered a news crew in Roanoke, Va., police used an automated reader to track down the culprit.
But, few departments in Oklahoma use the technology.
Some said it’s because the readers are just too expensive.
OCPD’s 17 sets of cameras each cost about $15,856 for purchase, software, licensing and installation.
The price is too much for the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office to bear.
“We see a lot of potential in them, a lot of things you can do with those readers but, for our agency at this point, we just don’t have the funds,” said OCSO spokesman Mark Opgrande. “I think it just became too cost prohibitive to use these. You have to update them constantly.”
The American Civil Liberties Union can see other potential pitfalls with using the readers on a more widespread basis.
Legal Director Brady Henderson said his concern is how the data from the readers would be disposed of.
“It gives the potential for government to abuse the ability to know exact movements and a great deal of private data about its citizens,” he said.
Another issue: indirect targeting of certain communities.
“If my license plate scanners are mostly on patrol cars that are in neighborhoods that are more poor, neighborhoods that are predominantly minorities, that’s where I’m going to find the uninsured motorists,” Henderson said.
But, overall, Henderson said he’s pleased with the lawmakers’ effort and calls it a good first step.
Rep. Ken Walker (R-Tulsa), the bill’s co-author, said license plate photographs from insured vehicles will be destroyed.
An accompanying bill would specify the data be used specifically for uninsured drivers and be kept from the public record.
Both bills passed the Senate without opposition.
The House passed Senate Bill 359 by a vote of 52-38.