The technology exists, so why not put it to good use? That's the mindset by the as it starts to use its new automated license plate reader system on three of its patrol vehicles.
The units cost $10,000 per car, but all the money was secured through grants and from the County of Marin, according to Captain Dave Jefferies.
Police departments in Mill Valley and Tiburon have used the ALPR system for a few years as part of a larger effort by the Marin County Sheriff’s Office to implement the devices. Tiburon received widespread media attention when it installed an ALPR device on a stationary pole at the town limits so it could check every plate on two main thoroughfares.
According to a Novato police press release, cameras mounted on a patrol car constantly scan for license plates as they come within view of the camera lens. One a plate is found, the software uses character recognition to translate the letters and numbers on a plate then compares them to several thousand wanted license plates. An alert sounds if the string matches one in the list.
The license plates on the alert lists are typically those reported as stolen or associated with people with outstanding arrest warrants.
The ALPR system has been used for about a week in Novato. Police said the system would dramatically increase the efficiency of a single officer looking for stolen vehicles and crime suspects.
"The units are functional and people have been trained, but we're still working out the details," Lt. Keith Heiden said. "There haven't been any major arrests from it. In the course of time, as everyone gets more familiar with it, hopefully it'll be taking off and we'll start to get results from them."
There are two cameras and four lenses per unit, Heiden said. He said the technology is similar to surveillance video mounted on buildings or cameras used at toll plazas to pinpoint drivers who try to speed through without paying.
The city of Novato is looking into purchasing a fourth ALPR unit, which would give police units on one-fifth of its 20 marked police cars.