The Wilmington Police Department’s effort to install Automated License Plate Recognition System cameras outside the Port of Wilmington has been derailed by an expired grant and a ruling from the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
While the WPD secured the $210,083 in funds from the 2008 Port Security Grant Program and Wilmington City Council approved purchasing the ALPRS in July 2011, the city was forced to de-obligate the funding at city council’s Nov. 6 meeting.
The ALPRS cameras are designed to read the alphanumerical combinations on license plates and cross-reference them with crime databases. That data would have then be used to alert all on-duty officers of any known offenders or suspicious vehicles around the port.
At Wilmington City Council’s annual retreat on Friday, Nov. 22, Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous said that the ALPRS was restricted for use around the port because of the funding source. The best use would have been to install the cameras on a fixed pole beside the road to ensure that the camera would capture every vehicle moving around the port.
However, the NCDOT would not grant clearance to place the camera within its roadside rights-of-way. Evangelous said NCDOT would not allow any utilities within the rights-of-way that did not assist in the transportation of goods or people and because of privacy concerns with the systems.
The Wrightsville Beach Police Department also made a similar request to NCDOT for its ALPRS system when deciding how to deploy its cameras. The WBPD requested installation on a pole on the eastern side of the Heide Trask Drawbridge so that the camera could read every license plate traveling on and off the island. NCDOT denied clearance. WBPD’s ALPRS cameras are now attached to two patrol cars and on the back of the department’s speed trailer.
WBPD Captain P. Burdette said if legislation were passed allowing the ALPRS cameras in NCDOT rights-of-way the department would again request to install it beside the drawbridge to more efficiently collect information.
“The system has been working well for us,” Burdette said. “We just have not received many big hits from it and whether or not that is a good thing or a bad thing depends on how you look at it.”
Similarly Evangelous said his department would revisit the ALPRS system if both the NCDOT would allow the cameras in its rights-of-way and if another grant funding opportunity were presented.