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San Antonio retailers turning to license plate readers to help curb theft

A license plate reader at La Cantera (SBG San Antonio)
A license plate reader at La Cantera (SBG San Antonio)
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SAN ANTONIO - You might notice some new features at stores and shopping centers around the city: automatic license plate readers.

One of our News 4 viewers asked us to investigate after he spotted these devices outside his local Home Depot.

The News 4 I-Team found out what these cameras are capturing and how long your information will be stored.

Blink and you might miss them.

The license plate readers are oval-shaped cameras attached to a pole, with a solar panel angled on top.

These devices take pictures of your license plate, and you probably won't even notice it's happening.

Brian Schroeder, the Senior General Manager at The Shops at La Cantera, showed us their array of cameras at each entrance and exit.

"We've seen some successes, but it's really early in the program," Schroeder said. "We're still trying to learn the program and get really efficient with it."

The automatic license plate readers, or ALPRs, were installed back in July as part of a pilot program through Brookfield Properties, the company that owns The Shops at La Cantera.

Here's how they work:

The cameras capture the license plate of every car that comes and goes, but only a few get flagged.

Read more about the pilot program at The Shops at La Cantera here.

If your car is associated with previous thefts, a missing person, or other alerts, security is notified.

"And they can go out to the area where the vehicle is and contact law enforcement if needed," Schroeder explained.

He says the main benefit is that it will help stop repeat thieves.

RELATED: More neighborhoods using license plate scanning cameras to combat crime

By using this technology, security will be alerted before known thieves even get in the doors, which could be a gamechanger as we're seeing those types of crimes spike.

"It's something that large and small retailers across the country are seeing," said Holly Beilin with Flock Safety, the company that makes these cameras. "And it's causing a lot of shrinkage for retail customers. It's really, really cutting into profits."

Beilin says this "perimeter security" could be the future for shops and retail stores in San Antonio and beyond.

Some people are excited about the potential safety benefits.

"I think it's a great idea," a shopper named Lea told us.

But some still worry about privacy.

"A license plate reader is capturing the rear of the vehicle. So identifying color, make model attributes of the vehicle, which is of course objective," Beilin said.

And how long will that picture be stored in the system?

Beilin says, about a month.

"We don't believe that we need to keep the data for longer than 30 days in order for it to be effective and helpful in criminal investigations," Beilin said.

At The Shops at La Cantera and at several local Home Depots, these cameras are clearly marked, letting you know what they're doing.

Schroder says for his property, that's intentional.

"We want people to be aware that we're gathering this information, I think for the general public, it's good to know that we're adding this additional security to the property to help them feel at ease," Schroeder said.

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