Anna Maria Island considers license plate recognition cameras

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Criminals beware.

City leaders on Anna Maria Island are considering adding license plate recognition cameras near bridges to and from the islands.

It's an ongoing conversation between mayors and city commissioners in Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, and the City of Anna Maria. These cameras are an effective tool for law enforcement, but the system raises privacy concerns as well.

"We are paradise," says Holmes Beach Police Chief William Tokajer. "We have a beautiful island community, but not everybody that comes here is someone that we would consider a welcome guest."

Tokajer is spearheading the island's efforts to install license plate readers like their neighbors to the south on Longboat Key, who has used the technology for over two years.

The cameras scan and record each car that drives by, and alerts law enforcement if there's a legal issue with the tag, car or driver.

"I am a proponent of it," says Pete Cumming, Chief of Police on Longboat Key. "It has solved crimes out here on Longboat key, and it has prevented other crimes from even occurring because people know the cameras are out here."

Holmes Beach put out temporary cameras for 24 days between March and April, and received nearly 4,000 hits on crimes ranging from expired tags to stolen vehicles.

"There's no way that you're going to catch all of them, but we did make some arrests," says Tokajer. "We captured some people that were wanted and it worked out very well."

The local branch of the ACLU has expressed concerns with the surveillance devices, questioning how much and how long that data would be retained by law enforcement.

Holmes Beach resident Zita Gavin says she doesn't mind going on grid if it means tracking down law-breakers.

"It's a small island, we have a lot of people who come onto this island, and if that would help police, I'm for it," says Gavin.

The cities can evaluate the cost of privacy once they figure out the cost of installing these cameras... Tokajer says the program is in the early stages, and could still be a long way off.

License plate recognition data is stored by Longboat Key Police for one year, and Tokajer says the agencies on Anna Maria Island would likely do the same.