After acquiring the GEM car and T3 Personal Mobility Vehicle in the last few months, the Nogales Police Department has added yet another high-tech tool to its growing arsenal.
And, at a cost of $20,000, the department’s new License Plate Reader paid for itself in the first eight hours that it was used on March 31, when it detected a pricey stolen vehicle from Phoenix in the McDonald’s parking lot on Crawford Street in Nogales.
The system, which is now mounted on the trunk of an unmarked cruiser, has one camera facing backward and one facing forward, but can handle up to six cameras. Those cameras detect any numbers and letters that cross its field. Those characters are cross-referenced against an Arizona Department of Public Safety “hot list” of stolen vehicle license plates. If a match occurs, an alarm goes off on an attached computer that sits next to the driver’s seat in the vehicle. The officer then takes appropriate action.
On April 1, the system identified another stolen vehicle among the 4,500 license plates it scanned in a 24-hour period.
If that weren’t enough, the system can also take still photos if, for example, an officer identifies gang activity, but is not in a position to approach the subject or subjects, said NDP Capt. Heriberto Zuniga.
Also, the reader is capable of tracking and mapping a history of every plate it reads, noting the time and location of each reading.
As well as tracking stolen vehicles, the LPR soon is expected to be used to identify expired plates or target a known plate if the department has reasonable cause to add it to the hot list.
It is also possible for the LPR to identify if the owner has suspended or expired insurance or if someone has excessive parking or driving violations.
“It’s an investigative tool for us,” Zuniga said.
The new technology, however, isn’t meant to raise the ire of Big Brother conspiracy theorists.
“We want to be transparent about this new tool,” Zuniga said. “We want to let the community know that we are trying to recover their property.”
The system is very “user friendly,” he added, and only takes 30-45 minutes for an officer to be trained on how to use it.
Zuniga expects all officers will be trained in the near future, and said the department looks to add two more systems to augment daily patrols.
“It’s a great tool to have,” he said. “It will allow us to do our jobs that much better.”