Holmdel Police now have the ability to automatically scan license plates to learn if a vehicle is unregistered, stolen, or if the owner is wanted on a warrant.
The department started using ELSAG automatic license plate technology around June 20. The technology was purchased for about $18,000, with a $5,000 county grant, and installed in the front seat on one police cruiser operated by Patrolmen Christopher Cherney and Charles Groder, working two different shifts, said Sgt. Michael Pigott of the Traffic Safety Dept.
"Other towns that have used them say that for picking up stolen cars, it has been very good, as well as getting unregistered cars off the road," said Pigott.
ELSAG CEO Mark E. Windover also points out on the company website that the readers are "addressing the growing threats to national security and the increasing tide of vehicular crime."
Without the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, an officer would have to read a license plate to a police dispatcher for a "look-up." The new readers can be used to scan license plates at speeds up to 160 miles per hour, according to ELSAG.
When there is a "hit" on a plate, the computer announces it with an audible tone, takes a picture of the plate, and produces a color image of the vehicle color photograph showing the plate, the car and its immediate surroundings, the date and time of each capture, along with the GPS coordinates of each vehicle’s location when the photo is taken.
"It doesn't take old-fashioned police work out of the equation," said Pigott. "It's another technology available for us to use."
"It is incumbent on the officer to stop the car to determine if there is a potential violation," said Pigott.
According to the manufacturer, licence plate reader technolgy can be used to assist police in the case of AMBER or SILVER alerts, even if only part of the license plate is known. The technology recognizes plates from all 50 states, Canada, and Mexico. As communities embrace it, they are finding new uses for it. In California, college campuses are using license plate readers to help collect taxes and parking ticket fines.
The Holmdel Police say the scanner does not report information about the vehicle's inspection record or insurance coverage, nor does it automatically alert officers to vehicle owner information unless the officer is tipped off to a potential violation. As for those concerned about privacy rights, Pigott said, "There is no expectation of privacy when it comes to your license plate."
The license plate reader's database is updated every morning with the latest information available from the Monmouth County Sheriff's Dept. with local warrant information.
So far, the license plate reader has resulted in one arrest. Holmdel Police are still working out how to make the most effective use of it within township borders.
For example, the reader can be stationed at the Holmdel First Aid station parking lot, at the Crawfords Corner Road entrance to the Garden State Parkway, but it cannot be used up the road to scan license plates at the PNC Bank Arts Center.
Nearby, the Hazlet Police Dept. is taking steps to acquiring license plate reader technology, said Hazlet Deputy Chief Philip Meehan, and it is already in use in Keansburg, Freehold, Tinton Falls and other departments, said Pigott.