License plate scanner money on county wish list

License plate scanners
License plate scanners. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A trial license plate reading program by Travis County sheriffs’ deputies that monitors every passing plate on the road is exceeding all expectations. The system has led to the recovery of $3 million in stolen vehicles. About one-third were stolen within the county, the rest were spotted here. The program has led to more than 100 arrests, all since February of this year.

Now the sheriff is asking for $24,000 to maintain the program through 2015, and is expected to come back for more money to eventually expand the program. Currently the three-camera system is only mounted on four patrol cars, but that could change.

“A very pleasant surprise,” said Maj. Darren Long with the Travis County Sheriffs Office. “It has really motivated us to continue the project.”

The cameras automatically register every plate and the system automatically red flags stolen vehicles, wanted felons or suspects in real time.

“There are certain areas a sex offender cannot go into, like a school zone,” Long explains. “If we happen to pass them in a school zone it will automatically tell us a sex offender is where they are not supposed to be.”

The department is expected to approach county commissioners asking for more money to expand the system after compiling a full years data. That could be through a federal grant similar to the seed money that started this program, or local money. Money the department believes would be well spent.

Not everybody is on board with this type of technology, however. The American Civil Liberties Union is concerned about privacy rights and a lack of regulation on the information police agencies collect.

In-Depth: License plate readers within other departments

The Austin Police Department began using such a system in 2009 but stopped in 2011 when the company they were using went out of business. They may seek to resume the project in 2015.

Pflugerville has one patrol car with it, that they have been using for two years.

The Williamson County Sheriffs Department has one set of cameras mounted on a car that has been in use five years.

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