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Scanners help track stolen vehicles
Yuma police have been scanning city streets with electronic license plate readers (ELPR) for more than a year now and recently recovered their first stolen vehicle using the equipment: a car out of Phoenix.
According to Officer Melissa Norred, a Yuma Police Department detective assigned full-time to work auto thefts, the system uses four high-speed digital cameras to photograph the license plates of cars within its range and compares them against a “Hot List” of stolen vehicles.
“The system will basically read the license plate of every vehicle it passes and alert an officer within a millisecond if the vehicle or suspect needs to be looked into,” Norred said. “Once it hits on a plate, it will freeze on that photo and tell the officer which camera captured it. You can also program in certain license plate numbers you are looking for.”
Norred said the ELPR system can read up to 1,500 plates per minute at speeds of up to 120 mph. In addition to recognizing license plates from all 50 states, Canada and Mexico, the system can read plates from across four lanes of traffic on vehicles traveling in both directions.
Another feature, Norred said, is that officers can take still photographs when necessary. The system also can display map locations of the cars it has scanned.
Norred said information for ELPR is downloaded from the Arizona Department of Public Safety three times a day. In addition to stolen or wanted vehicles, the system is programmed to alert for Amber Alerts, stolen plates, missing persons and if the vehicle is unregistered or has a suspended registration.
“Officers have the most current information available to them. It helps because officers are aware of the nature of the offense, and any possible violence that can happen before they ever get out of the vehicle.”
For example, if an Amber Alert is issued, an officer can look up the license plate in the ELPR and see if they have ever captured a photo of the vehicle. If so, the officer can pull up the exact time and location where that picture was taken and then search that area or notify other agencies that the vehicle may be heading in their direction.
Norred said the information collected by the ELPR will be stored on YPD's computers for up to three years. The benefit of doing so, Norred said, is being able to go back and check which vehicles were on the scene of a crime.
She wanted to stress, however, that the sole purpose of the ELPR is to scan license plates; no personal information is available on it.
Without the ELPR system, Norred said, officers would have to check the information manually on laptops or ask dispatchers to look up records. The scanner does all that work for them now.
The electronic license plate readers have been installed on two vehicles so far, she said, and were purchased using Operation Stonegarden funds. Each cost about $26,000. Stonegarden grants provide funding to enhance cooperation and coordination among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in a joint mission to secure the U.S. borders.