PLANO (CBSDFW.COM) – Most people want to know when someone is watching. But, in a growing number of North Texas cities, that just is not always the case. Police departments are embracing new technology that allows them to compile instant data without a person’s knowledge.

Check out one of the Plano Police Department’s best detectives. It’s not an officer behind the wheel. It’s the vehicle that he’s driving. Newly mounted cameras are actually scanners that automatically capture, record and research every car license plate that is passed. An alarm sounds on the officer’s computer screen if the nearby driver may be wanted for a crime.

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The camera has already helped police capture a bank robber. The criminal’s license plate was in the computer’s database, and it ultimately led to the recovery of several stolen cars in the city. “It’s such a valuable tool, as I say, for recovering people’s vehicles,” said David Tilley with the Plano Police Department, “that could otherwise be sitting there and wind up damaged and not get their vehicles back.”

Plano first started using the technology a few years ago on just one vehicle. That camera proved so helpful in solving crimes that the city is spending about $100,000 to add them to eight more vehicles. And with thousands of license plate numbers already captured, police will now be able to cast a much wider net for catching criminals.

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But critics question whether innocent citizens are being illegally tracked by officers. Criminal law attorney Todd Shapiro worries that the technology comes close to an invasion of privacy. Police explained that the captured information is password protected, and the city is working on a policy that could include wiping out the database after a certain period of time. “Our intent is for law enforcement purposes only. That’s what our policy is, and it’s been very useful,” said Tilley.

Residents like Ashley Hackett said that law-abiding citizens should not be worried about police watching. “No one likes to be recorded. We don’t like the thought that we’re being watched all the time,” Hackett said. “But isn’t that happening anyway?”

Several cities across North Texas are already using the specialized police cameras. The cities of Dallas, Mesquite and DeSoto are all planning to start using them in the near future.

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