ACLU: Tulare and Merced Police shared license plate reader data with ICE

Tuesday, March 19, 2019
ACLU: Tulare and Merced Police shared license plate reader data with ICE
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In an internal report, ICE identifies all of them as agencies that they receive driver location data from.

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Tulare's police chief is issuing an apology Monday after he says his department inadvertently shared license plate reader data with ICE, the federal immigration law enforcement agency.

Chief Wes Hensley and city councilmembers received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union last week.

The language in the letter is clear.

They say his department is sharing license plate reader data with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE and they demand his department stops doing so immediately.

In an internal report, ICE identifies 80 law enforcement agencies who they received driver location data from.

"This information helps ICE target, locate, and deport immigrant community members as they drive to work, run errands, or bring their kids to school," the ACLU writes in the letter. "By sharing ALPR data directly with ICE, your office violates the privacy and civil rights of immigrants and their families, and places them at serious risk."

"It was brought to our attention, and I believe it was inadvertent," Tulare Mayor Jose Sigala said. "So now our police department has taken the actions to remedy the issue."

Sigala says he was surprised to receive the letter but believes the police department is addressing the issue.

Monday, the department said license plate reader data was shared with ICE, because of a box checked while signing the contract with the company that provided the equipment and stores the data.

"It's never been the Tulare Police Department's ever or currently position that we take any role in immigration enforcement, period," Hensley said. "We just don't. It's inconsistent with community-based policing philosophies, and it's incongruent with state law SB 54. And just our longtime stance...we are a community that's pretty diverse, and we do have a lot of folks that could be targeted, and we won't have any part of that."

Tulare Police has license plate readers on four patrol vehicles.

They became operational in 2014, and Chief Wes Hensley says they're mainly used in stolen vehicle and child abduction cases.

But right now, he says, their program is on hold-until they review all of the agencies they will share data with moving forward.

But ICE won't be one of them.

Merced Police was also named as an agency sharing data with ICE.

"We are reviewing the information in the letter we received from the ACLU last week," Merced City Manager Steve Carrigan said. "Our review of the information will be done following our current policies and procedures. We look forward to meeting with ACLU representatives to discuss this matter further once we have completed our review."