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Technology gives police a leg up on spotting, handling scofflaws

Technology gives police a leg up on spotting, handling scofflaws

 

Bennington Banner

By Neal P. Goswami

February 16, 2011

 

BENNINGTON - Hiding in plain sight just got a little bit more difficult thanks to new technology recently acquired by the Bennington Police Department.

 

 

A License Plate Recognition system installed in one of the department's cruisers can read up to 1,800 license plates a minute, and in an instant return information about the registered owner. A reading on a registered owner with a suspended license, expired vehicle registration or an active arrest warrant instantly triggers an alarm on the in-cruiser laptop.

 

'A second or two'

 

"It will tell you within a second or two if there's a problem," Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette said.

 

The device - two cameras mounted on the trunk connected to a box inside the trunk - can be manually adjusted, Doucette said. If you're one of the "scofflaw violators" not paying your parking tickets, your plate can be manually entered, and if the cruiser passes it parked on the road you could be in for a surprise.

 

"What we end up doing is we put your vehicle information in here manually, your registration plate ... and I drive down the street. If I alert on the vehicle I call an officer to bring out the boot. We boot your vehicle, and we don't unboot your vehicle until you pay off all or your outstanding parking tickets," he said.

 

The system automatically downloads fresh information from the Department of Motor Vehicles and the National Crime Information Center each morning. It's stored on the cruiser's computer, allowing for the quick return on plate information.

 

But the information can lag, sometimes, so officers typically radio a dispatcher to confirm what the system alerts on.

 

"We have to be very careful because if someone reinstates [a suspended license] we want to make sure that we're not stopping them for no reason,"

 

 

From the Front

 

New camera feeds information into police cruisers

 

Doucette said.

 

Officers cannot stop a vehicle for the computer's warning alone, either. Doucette said officers must "develop reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle."

 

One vehicle that prompted the computer to cry out "suspended or revoked registration," the most was able to be stopped because it had "debris hanging from the rear-view mirror."

 

Another vehicle prompted an alert, but a quick check with a dispatcher found the registered owner's license had been reinstated. "He's reinstated, so that's why we need to make sure that we keep this up and have reasonable suspicion before we make the stop," Doucette said.

 

Not everyone gets ticketed as a result of an alert. Some drivers with minor equipment violations or other transgressions are issued a warning and sent off.

 

"You have to be reasonable, especially when the fines are as high as they are," he said.

 

Everyone stopped as a result of the new device is told about it so the word spreads and people settle their issues.

 

"We have to tell them why they're stopped, but we're also telling people about this technology because we're really hoping that people won't drive under suspension, people will get their warrants cleaned up," Doucette said.

 

The device, of which there are less than 20 in the state, is "a great tool," Doucette said, and provides police with a bit of a "home court advantage."

 

We've had this out now for about two weeks and we've had a lot of success with it," he said. "The guys have been very excited about this. I mean they don't fight over it, but at the shift briefings they're all very curious to see who is going to drive car two because it's got the LPR in it."

 

The system is expensive, but purchased with a federal grant, Doucette said. The department has no plans to outfit each cruiser with the technology.

 

"You're looking at just over $17,000. Right now, we can start with just one. I don't think that every car needs one," he said.

 

The device assists the department in cracking down on some violations, Doucette said, but officers are still expected to continue more traditional police work, too.

 

"We still expect the officers to go out and run radar and use the laser speed detection device. The officers can still stop cars for vehicles not inspected because ... a lot of times you stop a car and the vehicle is not inspected, people don't have insurance and things of that nature. This is just a tool. I am not encouraging officers to just drive around rely on the LPR.

 

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com

Peter Crabtree

 

Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette demonstrates a license plate reader, the department's latest high-tech tool. The Mobile Plate Hunter 900, which includes two cameras mounted on the rear of a cruiser, was bought with a federal grant. For a video, visit benningtonbanner.com.

 

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LPR Technology | MPH-900 | License Plate Reader