Council approves expansion of license plate reading technology for police vehicles

Tool aimed at improving public safety, preventing crimes, and helping investigations

SEATTLE – The Seattle City Council passed legislation today that will expand automated license plate reader (ALPR) technology to the entire Seattle Police Department’s fleet. This technology is an important tool to help address crime across the city, both in-progress activity and investigations after-the-fact. To address privacy concerns, the Council passed a number of amendments. The bill was sponsored by Councilmember Bob Kettle (District 7, Downtown to Magnolia) and amended in part by Councilmember Maritza Rivera (District 4, Northeast Seattle). 

“In our great city, crime has compounded crime. When someone steals a car, it’s used to smash through a storefront, eroding safety and contributing to a permissive environment. Automated License Plate Reader technology is an essential tool to curtail crime at the source,” said Councilmember Kettle. “We will be able to proactively address crimes as they’re happening and increase the effectiveness of police investigations after offenses occur. To address privacy concerns, the Council passed a number of amendments and will coordinate closely with our city’s accountability partners to help with those issues. I thank the Mayor for his leadership on this vital legislation and am grateful to my colleagues for their support.” 

“I believe ALPR gives police one more tool to combat crime in Seattle. Our city has seen a large and troubling increase in stolen cars, and the use of those cars to commit additional crimes,” said Councilmember Rivera. “I also believed we needed clearly defined privacy protections to mitigate any unintended consequences that could result from the use of this technology. Toward this end, I worked with SPD and Central Staff to craft an amendment that places parameters around who has access to the ALPR data, why the data is needed, and tracks who has requested access.” 


In 2021, the Council authorized a limited deployment of automated license plate readers on 11 SPD vehicles to locate stolen vehicles, finding missing persons, crimes in-progress, etc. The funding to implement full-fleet ALPR is included in the 2024 SPD budget. 

What the legislation does

The legislation that passed today would expand ALPR technology via dashcams to the entire fleet of SPD vehicles, 360 altogether, and cost $280,000 a year beginning in 2024. The technology would allow the police to address: 

  • Crimes in-progress 
  • Locating stolen vehicles 
  • Criminal investigations 
  • Searching for a wanted person 
  • Finding missing persons 
  • Canvassing the area around a crime scene 

Many of the Council’s amendments to the bill address privacy concerns, such as protecting the personal information of individual drivers – including those for whom location data may create specific safety risks such as people who are experiencing domestic violence, protecting sensitive information to reduce the risk that data may be used to criminalize those seeking reproductive and gender-affirming care in Washington state, and limiting access to the data to a smaller number of trained personnel in special units who abide by written requests with specific criteria. 

What’s next

Now that the bill has been passed by the Council, it heads to the Mayor’s desk for signature. If signed, the bill will go into effect 30 days afterwards and will be implemented once the terms are finalized with the technology provider.