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