Texas police departments are conspiring with a private company called Vigilant Solutions in an outrageous scheme to maximize the extortion of citizens, while collecting reams of personal information to use for commercial profit.
In the deal—dubbed “warrant redemption”—Texas law enforcement agencies get free automated license plate readers (ALPRs) as well as access to Vigilant’s massive database and analytical tools. In exchange for this, police departments give Vigilant all of the data they collect on drivers, along with access to information about all outstanding court fees. The cops don’t pay a dime, and Vigilant uses this information for nearly unlimited commercial purposes.
ALPRs are becoming increasingly common in law enforcement, being a form of mass surveillance, collecting real-time information on people’s whereabouts and feeding it into databases to access at any time. Regardless of whether you are suspected of a crime, these systems are tracking your movements, telling law enforcement things like what doctors you visit, what political activities you participate in, and where you sleep at night.
Local cops are mostly interested in using ALPRs to find drivers with outstanding court fines, pulling them over and giving them an ultimatum: pay up or get arrested. The deal with Vigilant Solutions makes it a bonanza for both cops and the company. They are preying on people through a new Texas law that allows credit and debit card readers to be installed in patrol vehicles so they can take payment on the spot.
As police cars patrol the city, they ping on license plates associated with the fees. The officer then pulls the driver over and offers them a devil’s bargain: get arrested, or pay the original fine with an extra 25% processing fee tacked on, all of which goes to Vigilant.1 In other words, the driver is paying Vigilant to provide the local police with the technology used to identify and then detain the driver. If the ALPR pings on a parked car, the officer can get out and leave a note to visit Vigilant’s payment website.
Port Arthur, Texas has a cop on full-time duty prowling the roads in his Dodge Charger with ALPRs, looking not only for misbehaving drivers but also those who haven’t paid traffic fines. Most are living on meager incomes, and the choice of paying a fine or getting arrested is often not a choice at all.
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