The 3.3-square-mile North Shore enclave of Kings Point is launching a far-reaching surveillance network that can compare the license plate of every car going into the village against federal and state crime databases such as most-wanted lists, stolen vehicle alerts and suspected terrorist files.
When the project is completed, 44 cameras will monitor 19 entrances into the village in what may be one of the most extensive municipal tracking programs anywhere.
The number of cameras equals about one for every 120 people in the village of 5,305 people. Kings Point, a community of million-dollar homes, sits on the Great Neck peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water.
In 2010, 19 property crimes and one violent crime were reported in the village. The most notable crimes last year were a series of home invasions, starting in November, during which women and girls were menaced.
Mayor Michael Kalnick said the tracking program is necessary to protect residents, but privacy and civil rights groups consider it an overreaching intrusion.
"Crime will always be out there," Kalnick said. "Do you wait for it to happen? I think no."
Village officials haven't said when the project will be completed. One camera has been operating on a test basis for about 18 months and police are using two mobile units on patrol cars. The project's first phase will put cameras at three intersections: East Shore Road and Hicks Lane, where the test camera is installed; East Shore Road north of Ravine Road; and Baker Hill Road at Station Road.
"When we talk about installing an intense surveillance system like these, there needs to be intense public debate," said Samantha Fredrickson, the Nassau County chapter director of New York Civil Liberties Union. "It's just another example of the government watching and keeping track of what we do in our personal time. It just doesn't seem necessary."
In August, the village approved a bond anticipation note for $1.4 million for technology improvements, with $1 million of it for the camera scanner system, village Clerk Louis DiDomenico said. In December, village trustees approved a $103,945 contract for the project's first phase.
The cameras operate like those already used in patrol cars of several Long Island police departments. The system runs the license plate scan through criminal databases and, if a match is found, immediately notifies police.
"They've done everything . . . from assisting us to locate missing cars to actually apprehending a bank robber," Long Beach Police Deputy Insp. Bruce Meyer said of the mobile units.
New York City installed similar license plate scanners, along with surveillance cameras and radiation detectors, near finance and commerce hubs, government buildings and tourist sites as part of the 2005 lower Manhattan and midtown security initiatives.
That system detected a few stolen cars over the years, Centre Island police Commissioner Michael Capobianco said, adding that the department has not received any complaints about the surveillance.
Vigilant Video, the California distributor of the CarDetector system Kings Point is using, said the village will be the first locality to blanket its boundaries with the company's license plate-scanning surveillance equipment.
"It's a very intense level of coverage," said Kevin Stauffer, Vigilant Video's regional sales manager.
Some privacy advocates and law enforcement officials said they did not know of any municipality in the country installing such an extensive surveillance system.
At Hicks Lane and East Shore Road, the test camera sits above the intersection, affixed to a pole and barely noticeable to the casual driver. A black utility cabinet at the base of the pole holds the microprocessors and servers that transmit data to the village police department.
Only law enforcement officers will have access to the data, Kings Point Police Commissioner John "Jack" Miller said.
The village doesn't have a policy for keeping the records, but for the time being will store the license plate scan information indefinitely, Miller said.
Long Beach archives its scanned-plate information for 45 days, and New York City for 30 days unless an investigation is active, officials said.
Supporters of the scanner system called it a faster, computerized way to get information that otherwise would take all day to check.
"It's not like you have a privacy right with your license plate and kind of car you're driving," said I. Bennett Capers, an associate law professor and associate dean for intellectual life at Hofstra University. "The Supreme Court has said people don't have the same privacy rights in their automobile as they would in their homes."
But privacy advocates remain concerned.
"Whether or not you have anything to hide, part of privacy is not having to expose yourself all the time," said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney for California-based digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Kalnick said he has not heard any complaints. "Whatever the camera sees, you would see," he said. "We're not peeking into backyards."
There doesn't appear to be a consensus about the surveillance among Kings Point residents, but a community group meeting Wednesday will discuss challenging the costs.
Elie Edalati said he may not have supported the idea before the home invasions, but "now, I don't have a problem with it."
Catherine Romano, however, questioned the need.
"I think that would be a good idea if this area had a lot of crime," she said. "This is a very quiet town."