Thursday, April 25, 2024

License Plate Readers

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Talking Transportation

By Jim Cameron
President
CAMERON COMMUNICATIONS INC

Author: “Off The Record: Confessions of a Media Consultant

We all know how bad the traffic is despite the State Police’s recent ticketing blitz on reckless drivers.  On the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways, in just one week, they made 170 traffic stops and issued 150 tickets (including 51 commercial vehicles) totaling $8,000 in fines.

That includes the arrest of a Norwalk cop accused of a road rage incident when he tried to run another car off the road.  When even the cops are acting out, you know things are bad.

Aside from radar, red light and speed cameras, some of the best tech being employed by cops these days is license plate readers (LPRs)… special cameras mounted on vehicles scanning license plates on passing cars.  The system recognizes the plate number and sends the data to a national crime database, immediately alerting the officer to violations.

Have an outstanding arrest warrant?  Registration expired?  No insurance?  The LPR will know and you’ll probably get pulled over.

A few years ago when my town was testing the technology, I did a ride-along with a local officer and watched it in action.  The system flashed red so often, notifying the officer, that she couldn’t decide which violator to pull over.

Just last week an LPR in Glastonbury pinged a stolen vehicle leading to a stop where the cop found the out-of-town driver not only had committed a larceny but had no driver’s license.

Some police departments are finding the technology so valuable they’re mounting LPR’s in permanent locations scanning every car entering their community.  They argue that LPRs are no different than having officers’ eyeballs looking for violators, just faster.

Civil libertarians worry about the implications of all this… not, perhaps, the legit arrests but the data that gets stored and can later be reviewed.  Were you driving in town X on date Y?  The database can let them know.

Of course, if you have an E-ZPass to handle your out-of-state tolls, that data is also being collected.  And your driving is also being tracked by your cellphone, equipped with GPS.

But LPRs only work if they can read the cars’ license plates.  So bad guys are now looking to obscure the tech’s vision with plastic covers over their plates.  Some even have a gizmo that, on activation,  pulls a shutter down over the plate so nobody can read it.

This is leading to what NYC cops call “ghost cars” that can evade electronic tolls or the city’s pending congestion pricing toll system.  A recent crackdown against these scofflaws has led to eight arrests, 200+ summons and 73 cars being impounded for toll violations and other fines.

Darien’s police chief Don Anderson tells me he’s got standing orders for his officers to pull over anyone with an obscured plate. 

“I want my officers to have a conversation with that driver… on their body camera… asking them ‘Why do you have these shrouds over your license plates?’… and are you aware they’re illegal (in Connecticut)?  I know why (they have them)… they want to avoid the tolls and speed cameras and drive with impunity.”

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. His weekly column “Talking Transportation” is archived here.  You can contact Jim at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.

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