Criminal Justice

Texas police turn into 'mobile debt collectors' with license-reader program

police siren

Image from Shutterstock.

A company that makes license-plate readers is offering free use of its equipment to Texas law enforcement agencies in exchange for a 25 percent surcharge on outstanding court fines collected through its database.

The deal turns Texas police in to “mobile debt collectors,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation says at its DeepLinks blog.

The blog says Vigilant Solutions is leveraging a new Teas law that allows officers to install credit card readers in their cars to take payment on the spot for court fines. In exchange for the license plate readers, Vigilant will get data on outstanding court fines. Vigilant will add the information to its database of license plate images and give it to police, who could use the data to find license plates associated with fees, the blog says.

When police pull a driver over, they can offer the driver the choice of arrest or immediate payment—plus a 25 percent processing fee for Vigilant. Already, Guadalupe County and the cities of Orange and Kyle are participating in the Vigilant program.

Fox7Austin covered the Kyle program and spoke with Wayne Krause Yang, legal director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. The law says that debt collection “is supposed to be direct and reasonable in its fees,” Krause Yang said. A 25 percent surcharge is “not reasonable and it’s not direct,” he said.

Vigilant spokesperson Josh Zecher tells the ABA Journal that the company isn’t performing debt collection services. “Vigilant is providing law enforcement with tools to collect fees and fines on their own,” he tells the ABA Journal in an email. “Vigilant’s fee is authorized by statute and is lower than the 30 percent fee that is statutorily mandated for those who perform debt collection in Texas—something again we do not do.”

Zecher says people apprehended under the “warrant redemption program” already have warrants out for their arrest, mostly for failure to appear. He says it’s cheaper to pay the processing fee than to go to jail and pay the costs of towing and impounding a vehicle.

His calculation: Those who don’t pay on the spot have to pay a $175 towing fee and a $20 daily impound fee, and they lose a day of work while in jail, giving up $96 in wages if pay is $12 an hour. The processing fee for paying a typical warrant fine of $500, on the hand, is $125.

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.