Newport PD using license plate readers to fight crime

NEWPORT, KY (FOX19) - The Newport Police Department is using a technology called License Plate Readers (LPR) to help fight crime.

It's a simple beep from his laptop that lets officer Steve McElroy know that a suspicious vehicle is nearby. Thanks to the Homeland Security Grant Program, McElroy can track the plates using three cameras on top of this cruiser.

The cameras take pictures of every car's license plate as it passes, regardless of whether it's in motion or parked. The system will then alert the officer if the vehicle is stolen or the owner has an outstanding warrant.

"It reads them, takes a picture and then GPS's where the plate was read," said Officer McElroy.

According to McElroy, the LPR also helps detectives solve bigger crimes.

"Union Township over in Ohio had a burglary and had a suspect, and the suspect had told them that he was in his vehicle in Tennessee and with my LPR system they were able to prove that he was lying," Officer McElroy explained.

However, there are some that aren't completely onboard with this technology.

"It may be a good thing, but I'm kind of old school like that and I believe everyone should have the right to privacy," said Newport resident Ron Herald.

"They don't need to know what I'm doing 24/7. They don't need to know if my car is stolen or not," said Tory Hammons, another local resident.

Hammons says even though it may help police, he's still not a fan.

"We're losing more of our rights every day, and if I'm not doing anything wrong, why do they need to have a record of my license plate," Hammons told FOX19.

The Newport Police Department stresses there isn't anything to worry about. If needed, they can access your personal information using another system called 'Mobile Cop' and not through the LPR system.

"It does not give me any owner's information, race of the owner, gender, anything," said McElroy.

There is a way to outsmart the LPR system, McElroy says. Certain license plate covers make it difficult for the technology to scan the plate.

"If you're not directly behind it and pretty much on the same plane as far as the license plate with it being sunny out, you're not going to be able to read the tag," he explained.

So how long is the picture of your plates stored? Depending on the agency, it can be just a few days or several years.

Only a fraction of the time does this technology pay off. Officer McElroy says during an average shift, they'll scan about 5,000 plates, but they only have about one or two legitimate hits each month.

Several other law enforcement agencies across the Tri-State use this license plate recognition technology, and Newport Police say they hope to equip more cruisers with the technology in the future.

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