APD asks for license plate scanners to catch car thieves

(KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Austin police car (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin police are asking the City Council for a new tool they say will help them catch car thieves and reduce crime.

They want police to utilize license plate readers on the roads. It is a similar technology used when you drive on a toll road and a camera scans your license plate before sending you a bill in the mail.

Officers want a camera fixed in their car for the sole purpose of reading license plates as they are patrolling. APD has asked the council to approve a five year contact with Vigilant Solutions for a total of $900,000.

The commander who oversees APD’s Technology Unit says this would be more effective for an officer than manually typing in each license plate number. Having a camera scan plates would make finding stolen cars or fleeing vehicles more efficient, according to police.

Last year, 2,000 cars were taken and nearly 11,000 vehicles were reported to have fled the scene of a crash. For the past few months APD has been testing out three license plate readers and they say it works.

“It’s proven to be very beneficial, we’ve already recovered several stolen vehicles, we found a vehicle that was involved in a car jacking we’ve been able to identify vehicles that have been used in burglaries,” said APD Technology Unit Commander Ely Reyes. “In the short time we’ve had it we’ve already been able to see the benefits it can provide.”

Opponents say the cameras violate a person’s privacy. APD responded saying license plates are within public view and any information is not going to be sold to a third party for collecting fines or repossessions of a vehicle.

Vigilant Solutions is also testing out their latest creation which involves facial recognition. Officers in Sacramento, California have been using an iPhone app. The technology uses algorithms to determine whether a person’s face matches a mug shot that might already be in the police database. Critics argue this type of technology can incorrectly identify people.

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