LOXLEY — On any given day, criminals of all types are driving on Highway 59 or Interstate 10, right through Loxley. Local law enforcement officers are constantly on the lookout for stolen vehicles, drug dealers, thieves, pedophiles and terrorism …
LOXLEY — On any given day, criminals of all types are driving on Highway 59 or Interstate 10, right through Loxley. Local law enforcement officers are constantly on the lookout for stolen vehicles, drug dealers, thieves, pedophiles and terrorism suspects who are driving those vehicles. They are also watching for vehicles that might contain children who have been snatched listed on the national Amber Alert.
Now, thanks to a Homeland Security Grant, Loxley has a state-of-the art automatic license plate recognition system installed in one patrol car. The Loxley Police Department and the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office were the only law enforcement agencies within the county to receive one of 20 system systems available to Alabama law enforcement agencies.
“We were very fortunate to get this system. With this new identifying tool, we are going to increase our interdiction. It will make our efforts much more productive,” said Loxley Police Chief Mike Murphy. He said Loxley was chosen to receive the system because of the town’s proximity to I-10.
The dash-mounted camera alone cost about $9,000 and the department was supplied with software and training. Murphy said his department only had to buy a new, faster, laptop to be used with the new equipment.
The Homeland Security grant, administered by the University of Alabama and channeled through the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center, includes a color mobile camera, the license plate recognition software, a frame grabber and a GPS monitor.
Loxley Police Officer Chip Cason, who has the system in his patrol car and was trained to use it, recently demonstrated how the equipment works. He said information (such as vehicle color and tag numbers) on “wanted” vehicles is uploaded onto the ACJIC database from the state, along with information from the NICIC. That information is constantly updated — as long as the computer is connected to the Internet
Cason has the camera set in a position where he can watch from the roadside and as vehicles pass his car, the camera “reads” the license plates. The camera can be used while the car is in motion, but he said he has found it works best when the car is parked along the road and the camera set to read tags on passing vehicles.
“It reads letters and numbers. It’s a really good idea, he said,” adding that the system is still in the experimental stage in the US. “The system was developed in England, where all the vehicles have large tags that are easy to read. We have a lot of different tags and it reads some better than others, but they are working all the time to improve that,” he said.
One feature of the system allows the officer to set up a “hot list” with information such as vehicle color and just partial numbers or letters from a tag. An alarm will sound when the camera “reads” a vehicle that could fit that profile. Cason said on average, there are 700,000 “wanted” vehicles registered on the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database.
“We can add information and customize it for different circumstances. When the alarm goes off, we can enlarge the image and double-check the vehicle.” he said. Cason and the other law enforcement officers using the technology in Alabama have a list serve and can communicate with each other, offering tips and information about their use of the equipment. The officers can also E-mail the company with questions or information on how the equipment is working in the field. So far, Cason said, it’s working really well for him.
In one 20-minute sting on Highway 59 and I-10, Cason’s camera identified 127 vehicle tags. “It’s really a good system, and if they can get the little kinks worked out of it, it will be even better,” he said.
Murphy said adding an additional camera to the rear of the patrol car would double the potential for identifying wanted vehicles and the department might add one in the future.
“If it shows a lot of positive results, we’re going to look at adding the additional camera for the rear window. That way, we can run tags coming and going,” the chief said.