A crime is committed and a getaway car is seen at the crime. A bystander captures the license plate number and turns it over to police. Through a new license plate reader system, police identify plate and locate the car. Unbeknownst to the suspect, the police show up and capture.
This is the latest system by District police officers that are helping them solve crimes- quickly. According to police, there are more than 250 cameras in D.C. and the surrounding areas that can capture license plates, which aid in helping police officers, find stolen vehicles and fleeting suspects in various crimes.
D.C. ranks among the highest jurisdiction, with more than one license plate reader per square mile, with plans on expanding its reach. Information captured from the plates remain in District databases for three years, while data captured in Alexandria, VA is held for two years and one year in Prince George’s County.
Police say the readers allow them to have a critical edge on would-be criminals once their vehicle has left the scene of a crime. For instance, if this technology were available during the 2002 D.C. sniper shootings, area police may have been able to capture the shooters before they killed many lives.
This technology came to D.C. in 2004 as a pilot program and within the early stages of its testing, the Washington Area Vehicle Enforcement Unit recovered eight cars and made three arrests within one shift. Between June and September of this year, police have found 51 stolen cars using this new system. Executive Director of D.C.’s police intelligence fusion division, Tom Wilkins said this technology allows officers to make an arrest a day, on average.
The license plate readers can capture information from a cars plate across four lanes of traffic and cars speeding up to 150mph. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said “This makes the bad guys’ job a lot harder.”
Controversies surrounding the license readers revolve around privacy laws, but because streets are public places the debate is prolonged. The District does not reveal where the license readers are located, but continue to note high rates of captures because of their existence. Rules surrounding their usage limit them to solving crimes only.