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Mall Of America Cameras Catch Criminals Through License Plate Readers

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A shopping trip to the Mall of America ended with jail time for two different male-female duos.

Officers say they weren't shoplifting, but that they had committed their thefts before they even got to the mall. It seems technology helped make the arrests possible.

From cameras to the canines, every time you walk into the Mall of America, you are being watched. But surveillance starts before the shopping. License plate scanners run background on cars as they drive in lots.

"What we are hoping to accomplish by the use of this data is for us to be able to assist in solving crimes," Deputy Chief Denis Otterness with the Bloomington Police Department said.

The Bloomington deputy chief says it's working.

Benajim Hunt, Dana Olness Bloomington
(credit: Bloomington Police Department)

On Sept. 5, officers say Dana Olness and Benjamin Hunt drove a stolen Buick from Le Sueur County into the lot.  A tag scan registered as stolen, a surveillance camera snapped their photo and it was emailed to mall officers. The pair was arrested outside Macy's. Officers say Hunt had a stun gun and knife on him.

iona gary poler

Two days later, officers say 18-year-old Gary and Iona Poler drove in the lot in a Honda Civic reported stolen from Minneapolis. A tag reader caught it, dispatch alerted officers and they arrested the duo before they even walked into the mall.

"Certainly this technology assisted us in making the arrest in these cases," Otterness said.

Not everyone is onboard. Data privacy experts worry it scans too many innocent people's info along the way, part of a lawmaker debate earlier this year.

"Just because you can doesn't mean I gave up my right to have privacy," State Senator Mary Kiffmeyer said back in February.

The compromise law makers came to this year: License readers are legal, but the data they collect has to be erased after 60 days. That went into effect in August.

We know at least 24 departments use the scanners. In a very high-profile case you may recall, the license readers were used to find the man who killed Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick. They were also used in the case where a man was accused of throwing dangerous items over a bridge.

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