Scanning the neighborhood

"This is not just for million-dollar homes. This is America at its core."

Scanning the neighborhood
A license plate reader in Paradise Hills. (Stephen Speranza for The Washington Post)

Full story: License plate scanners were supposed to bring peace of mind. Instead they tore the neighborhood apart.

The Paradise Hills neighborhood sits in the quiet foothills of Golden, Colo., and its homeowners association traditionally has concerned itself with enforcing rules around garage door paint colors and nudging residents to critter-proof their trash.

So it came as a surprise to Skip Erickson when the HOA board this spring declared that its neighborhood was now besieged by crime, with “bullets flying,” street racing and burglaries “terrorizing the families.”

To address the threat, the board said it wanted to buy one of the country’s hottest new security tools: license plate readers built to scan the tag on every passing vehicle for later inspection by homeowners and police.

To Erickson, 71, the idea of recording everyone’s movements in hopes of combating some imaginary menace seemed invasive, ineffective and absurd.

“Usually, the car break-ins here are from bears, as opposed to people,” he said. “And yet suddenly there was this paranoia that we had to protect the neighborhood at all costs.”

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