Police officers in New Jersey have been able to "run your plates" for quite some time, but with an advanced piece of equipment that's gaining popularity across the state, they can do it much quicker and essentially without lifting a finger.

Aleksandra Glustsenko, ThinkStock

Once activated by an officer, the automatic license plate reader, or ALPR, can scan the license plates of most vehicles that pass by. And within seconds, the officer would be alerted of a stolen vehicle, expired registration, suspended license or other foul play.

The system can also help police find a common link between a string of robberies or drug drop-offs. With the location of each incident, officials can utilize the ALPR to pinpoint identical license plates that show up at more than one scene.

Al Della Fave, public affairs director with the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, said 15 police departments in the county use the tool, and about 25 units are currently in operation.

"It's typically mounted on the rear of the vehicle," Della Fave said. "You'll notice it very prevalently on the hood of the trunk."

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has expressed concerns about the equipment, claiming there are more questions than answers, and it's "making suspects out of innocent folks."

"There aren't strict rules in place about how that information is being used or not used," said Ari Rosmarin, ACLU-NJ public policy director. "The potential for abuse is very high."

Rosmarin said going out into public does not make someone a suspect and does not give the government permission to collect and retain information about that person.

According to Della Fave, these concerns are unnecessary. He said police agencies are not using ALPR technology for "data mining" and are not forwarding the information to private companies.

"We just don't have that time," he said. "The purpose of the information we're developing is simply to improve policing services."