With technology evolving, the Philadelphia Police Department is testing equipment that allows officers to know if they are approaching a car of a wanted criminal, violent gang member or even of a citizen with parking violations just with a license plate scan.
ELSAG’s Mobile Plate Hunter-900, which has been installed on a 3rd District auto, scans tags with its front left, front right and rear cameras and compares them to various databases such as the FBI’s Criminal Crime Information Center, terror watch list and local warrant records.
Officers Edward Buzniak and Robert Veasey freely moved among their Mobile Data Terminal screens that included available patrol cars, active jobs and the automated license plate reader program that quickly collected plate numbers as they drove through the district Monday.
“We’re still required to do our job – just another responsibility,” Buzniak, a native of the 300 block of Jackson Street, who now resides in Northeast Philly, said.
The program, which signals a match with a red cue and an alarm, captures about 5,000 to 7,000 plates of autos parked or travelling on either side of the patrol car up to about 120 mph — day or night in any type of weather — in an eight-hour shift, according to its manufacturer.
However, Monday, the duo reached 7,430 scans by 1:15 p.m. — more than an hour shy of their shift’s conclusion.
About every 1,000 scans yields a stolen car whereas approximately every 6,000 scans produces an arrest, according to its manufacturer, but within minutes on their first day using the program last month, the duo yielded a hit, but it turned out the woman had purchased a repossessed vehicle and had not yet filed the necessary paperwork.
“She had to go through the inconvenience of us stopping her, having her confirm,” Veasey a 18th Street and West Moyamensing Avenue native, who now calls Roxborough home, said.
Since then, the local test subject has garnered only false hits.
“We can run a tag. It doesn’t necessarily mean the car is stolen,” Veasey said. “We still have to conduct a check to confirm.”
“A hit on this is not probable cause to stop a car,” Buzniak added.
After manually confirming, as the system cannot differentiate states or sometimes gathers only a partial tag, the officers may pull over the targeted vehicle or if it’s an unattended stolen car, report it to police dispatch to be towed.
Another new endeavor, the Real-Time Crime Center based at Police Headquarters, 750 Race St., receives a live feed of the scans and can remind officers to return later to a hit that occurred en route to a crime scene.
“It’s going to help solve crime,” Police Public Affairs Unit Lt. Raymond Evers, who did not have the system’s cost available, said. “If a car is linked to — say a car was used as a getaway car in a bank robbery, it’ll notify them right there.”
Even though the reader is still in its beta stage, the district already appreciates it.
“They want us to give feedback on how to make it better and we will,” Buzniak said. “… We consider it a valuable tool.”
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