GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Earlier this week, 24 Hour News 8 reported about technology that helped identify the whereabouts of a missing Holland woman: A camera that reads license plates numbers provided evidence that suggests Emelene VanDyke is safe and in New Mexico.
That same technology is now on the streets of Grand Rapids. It will flag vehicles parked along a street that were part of a crime or whose driver owes money for parking tickets.
An officer has only so much time during his or her shift to check license plates.
"I would have to stop, manually enter the plate into the computer, and wait for it to compare it to the LEAN database or the Secretary of State," explained Grand Rapids Police Department Sgt. Geoffrey Collard.
The cameras sitting on top of four GRPD patrol cars will allow that same officer to check up to 5,000 plates each shift.
24 Hour News 8 reported about the plate reading system when GRPD first tried them last summer. The department has since bought four Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) systems.
As an officer drives down a street, the camera captures license plates on both sides of the street. A computer then reads the numbers and, if they are in any law enforcement database, lets the officer know an investigation should be conducted.
"If you had a vehicle associated with an Amber Alert, the officer on the street could enter it into this computer and the system would automatically be searching for that vehicle," said Collard, who helped evaluate the system.
The system is also tied to the City Treasurer's Office, which tracks unpaid parking tickets.
"Our high expectation of this technology were reenforced last week during an afternoon testing period in which the system recovered a stolen vehicle, and located two vehicles with six or more parking tickets," said GRPD Capt. Dave Kiddle.
As for privacy issues, officers say they're still checking something in plain view. This just does it faster.
"It can be used to create probable cause to make a traffic stop potentially, depending on what the information was that is projected on the screen," Kiddle told 24 Hour News 8.
What happens after the computers read the plates is another concern, especially if the information on a vehicle not involved in a crime is stored.
Kiddle says GRPD will store the numbers for one year for situations such as a detectives trying to match a plate with a location.
"We do have policy in place that restricts how search can be made throughout the system, what reason they can be made and obviously, only authorized personnel have access to that data base," he said.
The City's Transformation Fund covers the $94,000 price tag for the technology. That is money generated from the 2010 income tax hike, which is supposed to pay for ideas and technology that helps the City maintain a certain level of service in the face of ever shrinking budgets.
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