Cops use license plate readers to spy on us

  Hiel Hitler the American police state is here! A good reason NOT to register your car in your own name.


License-plate readers help Chandler police solve crimes

by Laurie Merrill - Mar. 29, 2011 10:32 AM

The Arizona Republic

Cruising through the Chandler Fashion Center parking lot, Chandler police Detective Nate Duncan glances at his computer screen, watching the flashing color images of cars and license plates.

Two infrared cameras atop his white-and-blue Ford Crown Victoria are snapping pictures and processing each in less than a second, matching them against a database of recorded license plates.

Suddenly, he gets a hit. The license plate of a Buick he just passed matches that registered to a man suspected of DUI in Gilbert who had failed to appear in court.

"It links him to this vehicle," said Duncan, one of six members of Chandler's Auto Theft Repeat Offender Unit. But it is anyone's guess who was driving the car that day. It could be the man's wife or girlfriend who walks from Nordstrom to the Buick.

In place in Chandler for about three years, the Automated License Plate Registration system has revolutionized police work, Duncan says.

In bygone days, officers manually ran license numbers through laptops or dispatch at a comparatively glacial pace. The cameras can capture hundreds of images an hour.

"I can read the entire mall (parking lot) in less than 45 minutes," Duncan said.

The computer compares the plates to databases containing the license numbers of stolen plates, stolen cars and cars involved in felonies.

The Chandler Police Department has four cruisers set up with two cameras each. It also has a portable camera that can take photos from a longer range. The portable can be moved from car to car as needed.

The cameras can lead to alibis or prove them wrong. For example, when homicides are committed, the license-readers will snap photos of all the plates and cars at the scene. They can strengthen a case if a perpetrator's car was at the scene.

On Jan. 5, the routine flashing and snapping of license plates around the city led the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force to a blue Kia Sorrento that had been linked to a series of armed robberies in the East Valley. A Tempe detective asked Duncan if Chandler's cameras had recorded a specific license number, tied to an armed robbery the previous night. Duncan said it had been snapped just that day, and provided a Mesa address.

The driver turned out to be Adam Armando Hernandez Jr., who is accused of committing one of the most notorious crimes in Chandler history. Police followed him to the Chandler mall, where he opened fire on them, fled and took hostages at a Baja Fresh before surrendering peacefully, according to reports.

Detectives used the portable camera in 2008 to read licenses after each assault committed by the so-called Chandler Rapist, hoping to catch the same car at one of the different scenes. They didn't, but the rapist was eventually caught and sentenced to more than 100 years in prison.

The cameras also come in handy for less serious incidents, Duncan said.

For example, a woman once reported her car stolen from the Chandler Fashion Center. It was a Toyota Corolla, Duncan said, "not a hot commodity" among the car-theft set.

He drove around the parking lot, and the license reader snapped her car. He was able to tell her exactly in what parking lot space it was in.

Another time, a man reported a vehicle stolen from a Chandler gas station. He said he lived in Globe. But according to data obtained from the license reader, a car with that plate had been seen repeatedly at a Chandler apartment.

"It was a fraudulent report for insurance," Duncan said.

Currently, police help automobile repossession companies locate cars whose owners haven't been making payments and who have exhausted other all other avenues for finding cars owned by scofflaws. Repossession companies are getting their own license readers, Duncan said. This will provide even more data for police to use.

Each reader costs less than $25,000, and at least one was financed by a grant, police Detective David Ramer said.

Chandler shares information routinely with Scottsdale, Mesa, Gilbert, Tempe and Phoenix. Soon, instead of calling departments about particular licenses, as in the Hermandez case, a centralized system will be in place that provides direct access, Duncan said.

The devices were first used by colleges, which wanted to ensure that those using the lots had indeed paid for them, and casinos, which wanted to track who is coming and going.


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