Staff photo by Joshua Curry
The Wrightsville Beach Police Department has installed the automated license plate recognition cameras to one of the department’s cruisers, which will run license plates through a vehicle database.
This month, the Wrightsville Beach Police Department began the operation of its new Automated License Plate Recognition System. The WBPD purchased three ALPRS cameras and police chief Dan House said one has been installed on the department’s mobile speed trailer; one has been installed on the trunk lid of a police cruiser, and the recently purchased third camera would soon be installed on another police cruiser.
“The reason why we purchased the third unit is because we have two rotations of vehicles,” House said. “This way it will mean … the trailer will be out there as often as possible and then at least one of the two vehicles will be out.”
The cameras, designed to read the alphanumerical combinations on license plates, cross reference them with crime databases to alert all on-duty officers of any known offenders in the area.
“It is tied into the National Crime Information Center and also the Division of Criminal Information here in the state, so if anybody has entered into the system with warrants, wants or any other pertinent things … all that information gets downloaded to us,” House said. “Say it picks up a tag that is associated with somebody that was wanted out of New York; it lets us know and alerts all the vehicles.”
Once collected, all data will be stored on a server provided by the system manufacturer for 30 days before the WBPD purges the cache.
House said he encountered the need to install a series of validations for a hit when he tested the system. In one instance a camera read a series of numbers on a business’s sidewalk advertisement that corresponded to the license plate of a known criminal. He said the validation process would only take an officer around 30 seconds to run a verification by calling the county’s communication center.
“We need to have a valid hit and a valid concern before we take time out of someone’s day,” House said.
Although other jurisdictions like Raleigh that have used the system have gotten the best results by keeping the cameras mobile, House said having an officer sit near the Heide Trask Drawbridge would be the most efficient utilization of the system in Wrightsville Beach.
“It is like a force multiplier,” House said. “There is one way on Wrightsville Beach and one way off, so if we are able to capture every tag that comes over the bridge I would say by far that would be more beneficial.”
Although the department has yet to run all three of the cameras at once, House said the returns, especially in the summer season, would greatly benefit his officers and detectives, as well as citizens.
“If serious things happen you have two or three usual suspects, but if you have nothing to tie them here it is not much of anything,” he said. “However, if we can say at 2:30 in the morning they came over the bridge and at 3 we knew there was a break in, that is a real good starting point. The benefit to the citizens is, if we do have people out here who have committed violent crimes in other areas and they have warrants for arrest, we are able to pick them up and take them out of the community.”
The WBPD initially wanted to permanently place one of the cameras in a position to read every license plate that crosses the drawbridge; however, House said the North Carolina Department of Transportation was legally unable to approve placing anything in its right of way that was not traffic related. In an effort to circumvent this stipulation, House said the WBPD asked state legislators to permit the NCDOT to approve non-traffic related items in its right of ways. He has not heard if anyone has acted on the request.