Alamo Heights Police Use Driver Photos: It took award-winning reporter Jonathan Cotto ten hours to return from visiting family on September 4. On the way, he had a strange experience at Alamo Heights High School late at night. When a local police officer pulled this car over, a dashboard and body-worn cameras recorded the event. The reason for the stop was an outdated registration sticker.
Cotto was given a warning by the police after telling them that he had just finished his state check and was now waiting for his registration to be mailed. But there was a four-minute commotion when the officer took Cotto’s picture with her electronic ticket reader without notice.
“What’s the picture for?” Cotto asked when his picture would be ready.
“Just to say, you were driving when I pulled you over,” the cop said.
The investigation found that over the past two years, Alamo Heights cops may have taken thousands of pictures of drivers, including Cotto. AHPD officials say these pictures are being kept off-site by a third-party provider. Their policy states that these pictures must be used to find suspects in crimes that haven’t been reported.
Even though Cotto wasn’t given a ticket during the traffic stop, he spoke out against the rule, calling it “heartbreaking.”
One civil rights lawyer, Rebecca Webber, said the AHPD policy raised constitutional issues and called it “constitutionally suspect.” She said it was like the ideas in “1984” by George Orwell, a dystopian book. This brought up the idea that such searches might be against the Constitution.
Webber thought that the officer who pulled Cotto over for speeding broke an AHPD rule that lets criminals refuse to have their picture taken. The rule says that if someone objects, the cops shouldn’t force the issue, and they should write down that the person refused the citation.
In answer to Investigates’ request, AHPD said it would cost $2,800 plus other hidden fees to download and process 10,690 citation records from September 2021. How many of these tickets had pictures of the cars on them? It didn’t say in AHPD.
A spokesman for Tyler Technologies said that the AHPD decides how the data is used and that the company tailors its services to meet the needs of each agency. Tyler Technologies is the outside company in charge of keeping these pictures safe.
The San Antonio Police Department and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, the largest law enforcement agencies in our area, said that they do not usually or regularly take pictures of drivers who get tickets or warnings.
Like Alamo Heights, Castle Hills PD has a policy that lets judges use pictures to identify drivers in court. Live Oak and Universal City police also take shots, but only when a driver doesn’t have a license and needs to show proof of identity in court.