Suffolk police to put license plate readers in Brentwood

BRENTWOOD, N.Y. (AP) — Officials in suburban New York say they will install dozens of license plate readers in response to brutal gang-related killings involving teenagers and others.

The high-tech readers represent one step that law enforcement officials say will help them stem the violence in the middle-class Long Island community east of New York City.

Nearly three dozen suspected gang members have been rounded up in recent weeks following the deaths of four Brentwood High School teens, a former student and a 34-year-old man. Some of the victims were known members of the MS-13 street gang, and two of the victims were teenage girls.

The recent arrests include five suspected gang members who are expected to face federal racketeering charges. Officials have yet to identify them or the specific charges pending against them, citing the ongoing investigation.

Three of those found dead had been reported missing months ago and were found as part of the ongoing investigation. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini has said, "you don't stumble upon skeletal remains by accident," but he has not elaborated.

Authorities said the license plate readers will not be used for traffic infractions or traffic warrants. Officers would be required to have a specific case number and articulate a reason they need to access the camera information, officials said.

A 2012 study by the Police Executive Research Forum, a research and policy group, found that about seven in 10 law enforcement agencies nationwide have at least some access to the technology. Some departments mount scanners in patrol cars that capture data as police officers drive around town. Others buy access to databases maintained by private companies that mount plate scanning cameras on tow trucks.

Civil liberties advocates have raised some privacy concerns about how long the information is stored and who has access to it.

More than 50 cameras will be installed in 20 separate locations in Brentwood, Sini said. A $1 million state grant is be used to pay for them, though a vendor has yet to be identified. Officials did not say how quickly the readers will be deployed.

Officers can "mine data" after crimes are committed, Sini said, by searching information collected from the license plate cameras to identify specific vehicles or filter the results by the color of a car.

"What our community has gone through in the past couple of months has been very challenging," said Assemblyman Phil Ramos, who represents the community and helped obtain the state funding. "We have a community that's in fear."

Associated Press Writer Frank Eltman in Mineola, New York, contributed to this report.

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