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Freeport Mayor Gushes Over Success Of License Plate Readers As Crime Deterrent

FREEPORT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- One Long Island village says crime has dropped 54 percent since it installed dozens of cameras that scan drivers' cars and license plates.

Now, as CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported Monday, it wants even more.

As the summer tourist season kicks off, the village of Freeport, which is a gateway to Jones Beach, wants to expand its fiber-optic ring of steel -- 27 cameras now scan license plates of all who enter.

"If you are coming into the village of Freeport and that vehicle is wanted, you will be stopped and you will be arrested," Freeport Police Chief Miguel Bermudez said.

FLASHBACK: Cost, Privacy Questions Arise About Freeport License Plate Readers

In its three-plus years of operation, 250 million license plates have been scanned by Freeport's state-of-the-art reading system, resulting in hundreds of arrests of wanted criminals.

Web Extra: Freeport Mayor Touts Success Of License Plate Reader Program:

Cameras are mounted on poles throughout the village, allowing almost instantaneous access to state and federal law enforcement databases and motor vehicle records. They also alert body cam-wearing police officers on patrol.

"I really didn't realize how effective it would be," Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy said. "I am just amazed now when I sit down with police and I look at facts, and I look at the reduction in crime, and the safety to the police officers. It has just been a tremendous program. I'm really hoping to expand it. It's quality of life for the residents."

Calling it an intelligence tool that mines the data for crime trends used to solve homicides and robberies, the equipment can cross reference up to 20,000 plate numbers per minute.

The New York Civil Liberties Union calls plate reader program "a large-scale intrusion" and worries it is revealing extremely sensitive information about who we are and what we do.

But criminal justice experts say cameras capturing plates and vehicles are legal because they are "publicly visible and therefore offer no expectation of privacy."

According to the mayor, the intelligence data is stored for 180 days and looked at only if linked to a crime. Kennedy said the village was recently able to hire 20 additional police officers as result of the inundation of summonses.

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