Belle Meade Stands By Its License Plate Surveillance Camera, Despite Metro Challenge

Jun 26, 2017

Usage of a high-tech type of surveillance camera has recently been banned across Davidson County. But the license plate reader — or LPR— that was first put up by Belle Meade police won’t be coming down.

And despite the new countywide rule, the satellite city actually plans to add more of the devices.

Belle Meade’s first LPR perches along Harding Road where it turns into Highway 70 and logs images of the tags of all who drive past. Then those logs can be queried if investigators are working a case, said Belle Meade Police Chief Tim Eads.

“If we know John Doe drives a red pickup truck with this tag number, then we can say to the system, ‘Let us know if this tag number comes into our jurisdiction,’ ” he said.

He said the LPR has helped Belle Meade on a couple of cases during the first few trial months.

Yet some residents have questioned the technology, with some of the high-profile skeptics serving on the Metro Council, which voted to limit license plate readers throughout the county.

Councilman Dave Rosenberg called out the Belle Meade camera while crafting his ordinance.

“I don’t want to get to a place where every road is lined with cameras,” he said. “If you combine that with some of the other surveillance equipment out there … we’re getting to the place where we can map the movements of individuals throughout the city.”

The first Belle Meade license plate reader captures passing tags at Harding Pike and Lynnwood Terrace.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN

This month, the council set a new standard of review for surveillance gear, to require that any new technologies, or large increases in existing types, must undergo council review before installation.

But in the process, a question arose about the county’s satellite cities of Belle Meade, Berry Hill, Forest Hills, Goodlettsville and Oak Hill .

“This particular ordinance kind of flew in our face. And we wanted to make sure that we understood it,” said Belle Meade Mayor Jim Hunt, who called together leaders of the satellite cities and members of the council.

“And so we had a knock-down-drag-out. It was really a good discussion. But it really centered on the fact that Belle Meade is a sovereign city, and is not affected,” Hunt said.

This interpretation is still a point of contention.

But Metro Council Attorney Mike Jameson tells WPLN that it appears Belle Meade can use its camera, as long as it is for police purposes, which are exempt from Metro jurisdiction.

“To the extent a satellite city was operating in its police force powers, they would and could continue to do so,” Jameson said. “If they were using the data, for example, for other purposes than law enforcement — are they selling the data to third parties? Then it quickly becomes a gray area.”

Hunt said the LPR is specifically for police use. And looking ahead, Belle Meade is preparing to buy up to 19 additional LPRs — which could monitor practically all entry points to the city.