MPH-900 LPR Cameras give Lee deputies a leg up
Cameras give Lee deputies a leg up
License tags scanned for stolen cars
By Cristela Guerra
January 12, 2011
By the time drivers notice the extra accessories on this Ford Crown Victoria, it probably already has scanned their license plates.
The large, bulky cameras on the charcoal-vehicle's trunk link to a computer system inside the car. What looks like a typical patrol car is a License Plate Reader.
The cameras scan as many as 100 tags per minute, reading all vehicles they pass.
Their purpose is to find stolen vehicles, but the system also picks up expired license plates, running the driver's information through multiple sources including the Department of Motor Vehicles and federal and state identification systems.
Deputies at the Lee County Sheriff's Office Bravo district substation have had the vehicle based in the area since September and the reader has been on the street ever since, according to Lt. J.D. Loethen.
"Our goal is to show the effectiveness," Loethen said. "We want to show what we can do with it. This runs everybody's tag and that's the great part. There's no profiling in this."
The Justice Department in August 2008 awarded the sheriff's office auto theft unit $52,784 under the 2008 fiscal year Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, according to John Sheehan, Lee sheriff's office spokesman.
The unit purchased the license plate reader for $24,700 in August 2009 using this money, Sheehan said. It's been used in many areas of the county ever since.
Auto theft has been on a steady decline in the county for the past couple of years, according to annual report statistics from the sheriff's office.
In the past, deputies would have to go through multiple means and paper trails to figure out whether a car was stolen. This system interfaces and speaks to the driver, blinking and alerting if anything comes up.
"There are cars that we probably would have never pulled over in the first place if it wasn't for the LPR," Loethen said. "It's not like felons have blinking signs that point them out. This gives us a reason to pull someone over and further investigate."
It also downloads the daily list of cars that have been stolen so the system is always up-to-date. All deputies in the district keep a log of their numbers for the day to keep a track record on the LPR.
"It's a good tool for us," said Deputy Jean Lopez of the Bravo district. "It gives us more of an advantage."
The LPR recovered two stolen Audis abandoned in the Lehigh Acres Super Wal-Mart back in October.
Car thieves favor public spaces like parking lots because the stolen vehicles blend in.
One of the two cars, according to Michelle Batten, spokeswoman for the Collier County Sheriff's Office, was stolen from a dealership in Naples six days earlier.
Batten said the car was a 2010 Q5 SUV valued at about $41,000.
Collier County has seen a similar decrease in the past two years with 226 reported vehicle thefts in 2010, and 260 reported vehicle thefts in 2009.
One of the only car dealerships in Lehigh, Plattner's Lehigh Acres Pre-owned Super Store off Lee Boulevard, has had its share of thefts - three cars in the past three months.
Two were found.
Dean Williams, sales manager at Plattner's, said most of its cars don't have license plates, which can make them a target. He welcomes use of the LPR.
"I think it's a good idea," Williams said. "It'll deter thieves in the area from stealing cars just by knowing it's around."