Texas police turning into mobile debt collectors, group warns

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Two new technologies and one failed state program could make highway travel perilous for Texans traveling between San Antonio, Austin and Houston.

Law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction over I-10 east of San Antonio and I-35 between San Antonio and Austin have signed contracts with Vigilant Solutions, a license plate reader company, with the aim of stopping drivers who have outstanding traffic warrants.

The company’s database syncs real-time license scanning with a government warrants database to ping police when a target approaches.

At the same time, a new law enacted in 2015 allows police to install credit card readers in patrol vehicles. The idea was to allow people to pay their fines rather than be taken to jail. Vigilant Solutions is piggybacking on that policy.

The company’s contracts with Guadalupe County and the City of Kyle call for a 25 percent service charge, most of it payable to Vigilant, to be tacked onto the outstanding fines, putting a detained driver into bind: either pay all outstanding debts plus the service charge, or go to jail.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is warning that this turns police into mobile debt collectors for a private company, andr raises questions about the legality of the surcharge, which hinges on whether the fee is “reasonably incurred in providing the access or service.”

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