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New Tech Allows Skokie Police to Scan Every Single License Plate

The Skokie Police Department recently purchased a new device that can scan 3,000 license plates an hour. The device would automatically notify officers if a driver has a suspended, revoked license, among other things.

The Skokie Police Department recently purchased a new device that should curb motorists who drive 'under the radar.' 

The department installed a new automated license plate recognition software (ALPR) that can scan approximately 3,000 license plates an hour.

What does that mean?

If a driver has an expired license plate sticker and is in the vicinity of a squad car equipped with ALPR the officer will most likely be notified without doing anything.

The technology uses several cameras that are mounted on a squad car. Those cameras will be constantly running license plates to check for people driving on a suspended or revoked license. They can also notify an officer if a driver has an expired plate sticker, has a warrant out for their arrest and even if the driver is a registered sex offender, police said. The device can operate whether the officer's vehicle is in motion or if it's parked.  

Prior to the ALPR, officers manually entered plate numbers through their vehicle computer. At most, officers could run about 10 to 15 plates an hour, said Deputy Chief Michael Pechter.

"The [ALPR] will be running plates through the system and uploading them to an officer's squad car," Pechter said. "If the device flags a vehicle, a pop-up will appear on the screen and auto alert the officer who will then initiate a traffic stop."

The department received 100 percent funding through the Justice Assistance Stimulus Grant Fund. Pechter said each device cost "in the ballpark of $24,000." It is unclear how many police vehicles have the ALPR at this time. However, Pechter did say the ALPR is already being used in Skokie.

Pechter said the problem with drivers on a suspended or revoked license is that they typically follow all traffic laws to the "T," making it difficult for officers to initiate a traffic stop.

"This enables you to stop people that are doing everything right," Pechter said. 

How effective is the ALPR?

In Sarasota, Fla., deputies allowed a reporter to ride along as they deployed the ALPR. According to the Herald-Tribune, "34 drivers were pulled over by Sarasota sheriff's deputies during a 90-minute period around 9 a.m."

Of those pulled over, 21 resulted in a traffic citation and six drivers received criminal summons, according to the Herald-Tribune. All in all, the camera scanned 1,758 license plates during a 90-minute period.

How does it work?

Officers would download a "fresh hot list" from an Illinois database to their vehicle computer before their shift. That list would contain the most up to date information on all registered drivers with a suspended, revoked license. It also contains data for drivers with expired plate stickers, registered sex offenders or those that have a warrant out for their arrest.

While the officer is on patrol, the ALPR would automatically scan nearby plates. If a vehicle is flagged, an auto alert then pops up in the squad car's computer, Pechter said.

For example, if a sex offender is driving a vehicle that is registered to him, and he is parked in a school parking lot, a squad car equipped with ALPR would automatically notify the officer.

If you're driving a car that's registered to someone that has a warrant out for their arrest, you're most likely going to get pulled over if the ALPR is in your vicinity, for example. 

License plates are captured and run through both state and federal databases, Pechter said.  

"At crime scenes, police vehicles equipped with this system are able to quickly identify all nearby vehicles for potential follow-up investigations," Pechter added. 

Longtime Skokie Resident July 17, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Very happy the Skokie Police Department invested in this device.
h m July 17, 2012 at 01:50 PM
I am so glad that Big Brother is watching everything (not). Pretty soon a person will not be able to walk outside your home without the fear of being caught doing something that the government does not think is correct.
Hank July 17, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Hmmm…. I’ll bet if it would identify gang bangers or illegal aliens it would be considered an invasion of privacy.
David Zornig July 18, 2012 at 02:52 AM
This sounds like a probable cause, grey area nightmare. Attorneys for anyone ultimately wrongly accused, will likely cite the chronology of an arrest that was basically started by a machine. An example of someone innocent borrowing a car, barely pulling out of parking space and being seized upon is disturbing. It's essentially high tech profiling, or worse yet, a witch hunt. The cameras cannot determine if the driver is suspended or revoked. Only that that particular car is registered to someone that is. They'll illegally detain that driver, and then be forced to cut them loose. Opening the Village up to lawsuits. Next these cruisers will be entering private parking garages like Chicago's meter maids are now allowed to do. But their access is limited to city sticker and plate violations only. (For now) I'm all for giving the Police all the tools they need to fight crime, but this seems like an overreach that is surely to be challenged. I hope they maintain accurate statistics on all the cases that backfire, as well as those that are successful.
David Zornig July 18, 2012 at 05:08 AM
Hypothetically, if it's the wrong person (solo) yet in the allegedly correct car via the computer, an over zealous officer could be hesitant to let them go. That = profiling. Then having nothing actually on THAT person, that would be illegally detaining them in my opinion. They can't impound a properly registered car and it's innocent driver, just because the car's owner happens to be a loser. Do you think a cop who thinks they are onto something is gonna let that go, without some profilesque dialogue with that driver? Using ALPR's own numbers of 1758 plates scanned in 90 minutes, 34 pull overs, 21 citations plus/or including 6 criminal summons issued, (which means 6 court cases were likely pending anyway.) that's a lot of info to absorb and keep straight priority wise. Multiply those numbers every 90 minutes in however many cars, divided into an 8 hour shift, that = witch hunt. Now factor in officer's adrenalin when that level of solid leads (in their eyes) is being hurled at them every 90 minutes by the computer. It will start to be natural to assume they have the right perp every time. (Cause a computer's never been wrong...) It's the sweeping manner of this new tool, that will easily get out of hand when almost 8800 plates are scanned in just one shift. Think Scarlet Letter. As far as officers versus meter maids entering private property at will, I let you consult the Constitution on that one.
J July 18, 2012 at 05:44 AM
I was thinking about this also. I'm sure it will work its way through Illinois courts and eventually, possibly the Supreme Court as far as privacy issues and new technology, probable cause, etc. If you read the article in the link provided in the story to Sarasota Florida they do address some of these issues posed in this thread. I would think the next logical step, if it's not already available, is similar technology that would do facial recognition matching at the same speed of license plate checks. LEO would just drive down the street and the same personal identification is checked against many database sources. I would think this would aid greatly with aprehending anyone wanted. As for the technology and how it's being used, BRAVO for Skokie for what seems like a first for nearby villages and cities and implementing all available tools to make our community safer. It will be interesting to hear a report in the (near) future any statistics relating to the new equipment. The article from Sarasota seems to provide some decent response statistics. As for the legality, keep making busts and let the courts determine the constitutionality of the tools available to law enforcement. Precedent will be set.
David Zornig July 18, 2012 at 03:09 PM
I suspect this is really more about increasing revenue, with catching criminals as a bonus. A fine for a State plate violation, goes to the Village. They will certainly get their value out an officer's day, the more cars they have equipped with this. Any previous downtime, will be filled with writing expired plates tickets as they cruise up & down every street. Providing they are required to cite every plate this unit alerts them to. Are they allowed to turn the thing off, if they become overwhelmed with the mundane? This thing surely also tracks an officer's time on the job along with GPS. The Police Union will probably eventually chime in. If this computer is the new probable cause, will officers be indemnified if it gave them a wrong lead? Who's to say that wrong lead won't then just disappear from the computer's history? Leaving even the officer in an unexplainable situation. They should probably pre-print a standard grid pattern that can referenced, so the Village doesn't get accused of focusing on certain areas repeatedly. @J, making busts with precedent to follow, just opens the Village up to lawsuits. This whole thing needs to be scrutinized better. (Or it has, and they haven't told anyone.)
David Matson July 18, 2012 at 03:56 PM
It is disturbing that civil liberties and privacy concerns aren't even considered here. It is very likely that Skokie is also required to share all of this data with the Feds, as a condition of the grant. Is no one concerned about how much data is being collected on citizens who have done nothing? http://www.myillinoisdefenselawyer.com/2012/07/18/more-license-plate-scanning-surveillance-technology-skokie/

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