Vernon Town Council considers 'plate readers'
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Fri., Jul. 22, 2011
It may soon become more difficult for people driving cars with outstanding tickets, overdue registrations or other infractions to drive through Vernon undetected.
The Vernon Town Council heard a presentation on July 19 that would equip one or more police vehicles with a License Plate Reader (LPR) system that is able to scan vehicles’ license plates and feed them into a database as the cruiser patrols the town.
Deputy Mayor Brian Motola said he asked Chief James Kenny to look into the tool.
Kenny said the device is computer software that can run on the laptops already in the vehicles, attached to detection devices mounted on the rear deck of the car. License plates can be read while the police vehicle is parked, or while being driven down the road.
The technology is similar to that of a bar-code scanner, but is able to read letters, as well as the color of the license plate. When entered into the database – which is actually a network of several databases in the Hartford area – the plate number is then potentially flagged for a variety of reasons.
“It reads the coordinates,” Kenny said. “It checks for unregistered vehicles, suspended registrations, uninsured vehicles...”
The officer would be alerted in “less than one second” if there is any such outstanding violation, said Kenny.
“There is a silent alert that tells him which camera it came from and what is wrong with the vehicle,” said Kevin Schneider, project manager for Warnock Automotive, which produces the systems. “If [example plate number] ‘ABC123’ is wanted anywhere in the country, it's going to pop up and say so.”
Kenny added that the system could also help look for missing and wanted people.
Kenny said he has spoken with chiefs in other towns that already have the system in place, including Wethersfield and Newington, and they indicated that they get the best results when used in high-traffic areas.
“It would be great to add to our inventory,” Kenny said.
Schneider said the detection system is already operational in seven states, including Connecticut. Several towns - including Enfield, Bloomfield, Manchester and East Hartford- already employ the devices.
The Capitol Region Council of Governments maintains the regional database.
Schneider said there is more to the system than just motor vehicle enforcement.
“It has been very successful in saving hundreds of unregistered and uninsured vehicles from traveling the roads in your area,” he said. “It has also helped solve a triple homicide in East Hartford.”
Schneider said the system has also helped in homeland security investigations.
Schneider said the scanner takes an image of the license plate and stamps a
He added that no personal information about the driver is gathered. The system also does not detect the speed of the vehicle.
Kenny said the ACLU has expressed some concern over the potential future uses of the technology to track one's whereabouts, but the system currently only acts as a better set of eyes on license plates, which is considered public information.
The price tag is $13,500 per system. There is also a $100-per-year fee that goes to the maintenance of the database. When asked about the reliability of the system, Schneider said the readers already in place have been operational “99 percent of the time.”
The price also includes training of officers, and assistance from Schneider, should any occasions arrive.
Kenny said the department would likely ask for one system, and then “see how it works.” He added that Vernon police vehicles already have several high-tech items, including a digital video camera system, but that the software uses less than 3 percent of the active memory of a computer. Kenny also said he was sure that if the council eventually approved the purchase of a system for use in Vernon, he would be able to find the $100 fee in the police budget.
Kenny also asked Schneider if the VPD could use a system on a trial basis.
Motola suggested that the council look into its available funds and address the item at its next meeting.
Councilwoman Pauline Schaefer said the potential exists for the town to recoup outstanding motor vehicle taxes from vehicles that need to be re-registered.
“This could probably pay for itself in a very short time,” she said.
Kenny said there are also several infractions for which the state reimburses towns.
“I don't think anybody here is going to say no to this,” said Councilman Bill Campbell.