"City Rescinds Agreement with Vigilant Solutions" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
A Kyle city council member says police officers are doing a good job with traditional warrant round ups, but using a California-based company's license plate recognition technology to identify debtors would be unfair to poor drivers and raises privacy concerns, she said.
Late last Tuesday, the Kyle City Council voted 6-1 to rescind an agreement with Vigilant Solutions that would have paid the company a 25 percent surcharge to help police identify drivers with outstanding warrants and — after stopping them — collect their fines roadside. Kyle had voted in January to join the program.
After residents and city leaders raised concerns about possible data breaches and access to driver and warrant information, the panel changed its mind. The council considered rescinding or amending the memorandum of understanding with Vigilant. In-person reassurances from the Vigilant executive who created the company’s license plate recognition technology weren’t enough.
“When we first voted for it, I was very uncomfortable with it, because, really, after I had more and more time to think about it, the original plan really hurts the poor in the first place,” City Council Member Daphne Tenorio said.
Council members were concerned about what information is saved, for how long and who has access. Vigilant Vice President Joe Harzewski said data collected by Kyle belongs to the city, which can decide what to do with it. Harzewski, who created the license plate recognition technology, stressed the importance of the program and the security of data collected.
“To me, it was too much Big Brother,” Tenorio said. “And there was no way that they could honestly say that that information was safe, and in this day of technology, with hackers, nothing is safe. I wouldn't want my information being given and shared with other people.”
Under its warrant redemption program, Vigilant provides all of the equipment — license plate recognition technology and the credit card machines — save the processing fee.
"We were disappointed by the Kyle City Council’s action to end the Warrant Redemption Program pilot – a program that would allow citizens a pathway to resolve outstanding warrants and avoid jail time," said Brian Shockley, Vigilant's vice president of marketing, in a statement. "However, we fully respect the City Council’s decision and will continue to develop solutions that both provide tremendous benefits to law enforcement and employ the most advanced privacy and security protections available."
The cities of Orange and Decatur and Guadalupe County are among fewer than a dozen communities participating in the pilot program, according to interviews with law enforcement agencies and city officials around the state. The city of Blue Mound, outside of Fort Worth, also recently signed up for the program, according to its police chief.
The program's growth follows last year's passage of House Bill 121, which explicitly allowed police officers to use credit card readers to collect payment of fines during stops. The bill's author, state Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, chairman of the House Select Committee on Emerging Issues In Texas Law Enforcement, said such programs are needed because outstanding court fees total more than $1 billion statewide. Kyle, alone, has $5 million in court fees related to unpaid warrants, according to city officials.
“In terms of what it means for the PD,” a Kyle spokesperson told The Texas Tribune, “it means that those outstanding warrants will take a lot longer to collect even as more are adding up.”