La. license plate cameras boost arrests

Jefferson devices scan roads for stolen cars

By Michelle Hunter

NEW ORLEANS — After just 25 days, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office has racked up 20 arrests and recovered stolen 23 vehicles and license plates using its new automated license-plate recognition cameras.

Sheriff Newell Normand provided an update Wednesday on the system of 76 fixed and mobile cameras that are programmed to scan the plates of passing vehicles, almost immediately identifying ones that have been reported stolen.

"We're very excited about the technology," Normand said.

So far, the department has deployed 32 stationary cameras mounted on poles throughout the parish. An additional 44 cameras in sets of four are mounted on 11 patrol cars, allowing deputies to scan vehicles that pass on each side, as well as vehicles traveling in the opposite direction.

The cameras also can scan cars in parking lots. Each camera is programmed to capture a still image of a passing vehicle and its license plate, instantaneously checking it against a database of stolen vehicles. The cameras can scan, or record a "hit" on, whatever passes by its lens, even at speeds of as much as 80 miles per hour.

Stolen car alerts on mobile units pop up immediately on the laptop computers inside of patrol cars. Alerts from stationary cameras go to the 911 center and are then sent out to supervisors and other personnel.

So far, the 44 mobile cameras have averaged about 800 hits per hour, while the stationary cameras get about 1,000 hits per hour, said Capt. Michael DeSalvo Jr., direction of management information systems.

Before the cameras, the Sheriff's Office used to recover about three to four stolen vehicles per month, officials have said. That's because deputies usually discovered a car was hot only after performing a traffic stop and running the license plate manually.

"The likelihood of that is kind of a needle-in-a-haystack situation," Normand said. The license-plate recognition technology makes recovery efforts more efficient.

In addition to collaring car thieves, Normand said the system can also help deputies look for suspects in armed robberies, burglaries or other violent crimes, providing multiple eyes around the parish that can track either a license plate or vehicle description provided by a victim or witness.

The system can also be used to locate sex offenders, wanted felons or cars connected to Amber Alerts. And the license plate recognition software doesn't require heavy staffing.

"It significantly enhances out ability to solve crimes in Jefferson Parish," said Capt. Emile Larson, deputy commander of narcotics.

The cameras don't come cheap. Each stationery camera, plus software, costs about $14,000. The mobile units, including all four cameras and accessories, run about $25,000 per car. The Sheriff's Office spent $626,680 on the cameras, paid for through two federal grants, officials have said.

But Norman expects the program to double in size by the end of 2009. The department has already secured money to buy a few additional cameras. At least one civic group on the West Bank has committed to buying a camera for its neighborhood. And other business and neighborhood associations are considering the same. Normand said the Sheriff's Office will cover the costs of operations and maintenance if groups buy the equipment.

The Sheriff's Office has already placed cameras in Gretna. But other law enforcement agencies, including the Kenner and Causeway police departments, are also mulling over the license-plate recognition technology, Larson said.

Copyright 2008 Times-Picayune

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