New technology helps police catch wanted criminals
Fueled by federal grants, high-speed cameras that can automatically read up to 30 license plates a second and check them for violations or law enforcement alerts are scanning more streets and highways across Massachusetts this year.
The Executive Office of Public Safety and Security doled out $500,000 in federal highway grants earlier this year to 26 police departments for automatic plate readers, which can be stationary or mounted on a cruiser on patrol.
Some MetroWest and Milford-area cities and towns already had the high-tech scanners. Those that won grants are now using plate readers or will be soon.
"In real time, it's just a great opportunity," said Ashland Police Chief Scott Rohmer, whose department bought a plate reader last year. "With the technology, it's just another tool to allow the officer to be better at their job and process information faster."
Framingham and Franklin are among area departments now using the cameras, which are clearly in demand. Ninety-eight police departments applied to the state's public safety office for a grant to buy one this year.
Milford and Marlborough recently got the scanners in the second round.
"It searches for people who are wanted, it searches for vehicles that aren't registered or insured, so in the long run, it protects the public," Milford Chief Tom O'Loughlin said. "For me, it's like other equipment - radios and radar. We have the LoJack trackers. We just a week or so ago tracked a stolen car from Bellingham. It's another tool that can be used by patrol officers." . . .
Automatic plate readers also record information on the dates, times and locations of the plates they scan, according to an IACP report.
This information could help with criminal investigations, such as placing the same car at multiple bank robberies or break-ins, authorities say. But collecting the information on all citizens - even law-abiding ones - is what worries privacy advocates. . . .
"We would prefer that they not keep it at all unless it pertains to an ongoing criminal investigation," Crockford said, adding that the ACLU hopes to work with the state to draft a data policy that protects people's privacy. . . .
Thanks to Jeff Yager for the heads up on this story.