NPD ex­pand­ing net­work of au­to­matic li­cense plate read­ers

Newark Post - - LOCAL NEWS - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­pub.com

The Ne­wark Po­lice Depart­ment will soon have one more eye in the sky.

On Mon­day, city coun­cil ap­proved the pur­chase of an ad­di­tional au­to­matic li­cense plate recog­ni­tion (ALPR) unit. The $29,000 pur­chase will be funded by a state grant.

The new unit will join NPD’s ex­ist­ing net­work of four ALPRs. One is a mo­bile unit at­tached to a po­lice car, while the other three are mounted on util­ity poles.

Of­fi­cials did not dis­close where the new fixed-lo­ca­tion ALPR will be in­stalled, but they are typ­i­cally mounted along ma­jor roads that peo­ple use to en­ter or exit the city.

ALPRs use cam­eras to take high-speed photos of li­cense plates and uti­lize op­ti­cal char­ac­ter recog­ni­tion soft­ware to dis­cern the num­bers or let­ters on the plates. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port funded by the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment, most ALPR sys­tems are ca­pa­ble of read­ing up to 1,800 plates per minute, even when the ve­hi­cle is trav­el­ing as fast as 160 mph.

The mo­bile unit alerts of­fi­cers in real-time if it spots a ve­hi­cle that is stolen or wanted by law en­force­ment. The fixed units cre­ate a data­base of li­cense plates of cars that travel through the city, which is ac­cessed af­ter a crime is re­ported to track down plate num­bers or con­firm a plate given to of­fi­cers by wit­nesses.

The plate num­bers are stored in a city data­base for up to six months; how­ever, data de­ter­mined to be rel­e­vant to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion can be kept longer. In­for­ma­tion stored in­cludes the li­cense plate num­ber, the date and time, the lo­ca­tion of the ve­hi­cle, a pho­to­graph of the li­cense plate and a pho­to­graph of the ve­hi­cle.

A pre­vi­ous pur­chase of ALPRs drew con­cerns from pri­vacy ad­vo­cates, but po­lice of­fi­cials say the ALPRs are a cru­cial tool for solv­ing crimes. De­tec­tives of­ten iden­tify sus­pects by com­bin­ing in­for­ma­tion from the li­cense plate data­base with sur­veil­lance cam­era footage and wit­ness state­ments.

For in­stance, in 2014, po­lice cred­ited the ALPR sys­tem with help­ing lead to the ar­rest of four men sus­pected in a string of armed rob­beries in the city. A wit­ness pro­vided a de­scrip­tion of the rob­bers’ car, and in­ves­ti­ga­tors were able to cross-ref­er­ence the de­scrip­tion with in­for­ma­tion stored by the ALPR sys­tem to get a li­cense plate num­ber and de­ter­mined the car had been on Main Street within the time frame of sev­eral of the rob­beries.

Coun­cil ap­proved the pur­chase 5-1, with no dis­cus­sion. Coun­cil­woman Jen Wal­lace cast the lone vote in op­po­si­tion, and Coun­cil­man Mark More­head was ab­sent.

NE­WARK POST FILE PHOTO BY JOSH SHAN­NON

This au­to­matic li­cense plate recog­ni­tion unit pho­to­graphs and de­ci­phers li­cense plates as cars pass through the in­ter­sec­tion of Main and Chapel streets.

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