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DEA withdraws request to install license plate readers

Published: Monday, June 11 2012 10:06 p.m. MDT

DEA Task Force remove meth lab from a storage unit at Red-E Storage in Bluffdale in 2005. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has withdrawn its request to install stationary license plate readers to help catch drug traffickers on I-15 in Beaver and Washington counties.

Michael Brandy, File, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has withdrawn its request to install stationary license plate readers on I-15 in Beaver and Washington counties, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said Monday.

But that doesn't mean the DEA is abandoning the plan.

"From our very first discussions in early May about this, I was informed that it was the DEA's position that they didn't need our permission (to install the license plate readers)" Weiler said, "that they were asking our permission as a courtesy."

Last month, DEA and law enforcement officials met with the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee, seeking permission to install the technology on the freeway.

The primary purpose, they said, would be to nab drug traffickers, violent offenders and kidnappers. State lawmakers have been hesitant to support the idea, citing privacy issues.

DEA officials were expected to meet again with the legislative committee next week. When legislative staff called to confirm that DEA representatives would be returning for the June 20 meeting, "they said they wouldn't be there," Weiler said.

"And when we asked why, they said they were withdrawing their request," he said.

Weiler said he expects to learn more Tuesday about what the DEA's action means.

"I don't know if they're backing off or if they're saying, 'Hey, we tried to be nice … but we're going to do it anyway,'" he said. "At this point, I just don't know."

The scanners capture license plates, direction of travel and GPS coordinates, agency officials told the committee in May. The information would be stored in a DEA database in Virginia for two years.

The DEA uses the technology along the U.S. border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Moving into the country's interior along known drug trafficking routes is the second of a three-phase project that would end with scanners being placed along the country's northern border, DEA officials said.

Marijuana grows on public lands in southern Utah are common, as are violent drug traffickers from Nevada and California, DEA officials told the committee. The license plate reader would allow local police agencies to be alerted when the vehicle of a known trafficker enters the state. It would also be used when Amber Alerts are issued.

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com

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