Avondale police add new technology

Two cameras that can scan thousands of license plates in a single officer's shift are the newest technology to come to the Avondale Police Department.

The automatic license-plate reader system works faster than police could alone, taking color, black-and-white or infrared pictures of every vehicle that it passes, said patrol Officer Adam Lewis, who helped train the rest of the department in the new system.

Reading license plates primarily allows police to recover stolen vehicles, but the system can alert police about a specific vehicle's presence, for example, during an Amber Alert.

"It helps me multitask," Lewis said. "I can be looking for other offenses . . . while the camera is looking for cars."

During one shift, Lewis scanned 600 to 800 plates while responding to his normal calls.

Since the system was installed on an undercover police truck about three months ago, he has recovered several stolen vehicles, he said.

Two cameras sit on the sides of the truck's bed. One can look across four lanes of traffic, while the other looks close up at passing cars.

Cables connect the cameras to a computer unit inside the truck, under the backseat.

Information from the cameras feeds into a laptop at the driver's right side.

As the truck passes traffic and parked cars, the cameras snap pictures of the license plates and check them against a Department of Public Safety database of stolen vehicles.

When a match is found, alarms go off, alerting the officer.

The system cost about $20,000 and was paid for with money seized from drug and other criminal activity.

Lewis said that when a stolen vehicle is found, officers always call back to dispatch to confirm the finding.

Then, he said, he makes a traffic stop or calls for marked police cars as backup.

"It's been very effective," Lewis said.

He said that the system found one stolen vehicle while the department was still testing its software.

[Via www.azcentral.com]