Dallas Police Consider More License Plate Readers

The Dallas Police Department is considering getting more license-plate readers to help officers put more criminals behind bars.

This comes after two sting operations this month alone have led to five arrests, plus dozens of traffic stops have yielded warnings or tickets. Officers also recovered a stolen car thanks to the technology.

Police say the five arrests alone helped clear 50 active warrants off the books.

"The city of Dallas prides itself on being on the cutting edge of technology, and really this is just another tool that lets us get one step ahead of the criminals," said Dallas Police Lt. Don Ham.

The department currently has 26 mobile automatic license-plate readers, costing about $20,000 each, and most of them are affixed to squad cars.

Dallas also has 15 fixed-location license-plate readers, which cost about $35,000.

During a joint operation Tuesday with Dallas Police and Dallas City Marshals, officers tested a hybrid "mobile-fixed" scanner, on loan from surveillance tech firm Vigilant Solutions, that is attached to a nondescript trailer and left in the median of busy roads.

Police asked NBC 5 not to reveal what the trailer looks like, but the camera technology embedded in it is state-of-the-art, and it can even get hits off of paper and temporary tags.

During the four-hour operation near Coit Road in North Dallas, the scanners successfully read – or "detected" – 8,000 tags, and 32 of them came back with at least one active warrant on file.

On Tuesday some drivers got off with a warning to take care of their traffic violation warrants, while others were given tickets. One woman with five outstanding traffic warrants was arrested.

"This technology helps us clear up the backlog of warrants, and it helps reduce the amount of officer hours dedicated to trying and track down these people," said Ham. "We let technology work for us."

Police say they mostly come across active Class C warrants, for things like traffic violations, public intoxication, petty theft and assault.

"They're low-level warrants, but a lot of people have several of them that build up," Ham said.

There are about 80,000 of those kinds of warrants in Dallas. Officers say using the license-plate scanners is the best way to combat the growing backlog.

"We've got all these people driving around on the streets out here with active warrants and we don't know it," said Sgt. Mark Magbee with the Dallas City Marshal's Office.

"And with the technology that's out today, with the secret trailer we have set up, it makes it a lot easier for law enforcement to detect who we need to be finding," Magbee added.

NBC 5 asked police about concerns over privacy rights surrounding the growing use of license-plate scanners in police investigations.

Police said the cameras are only photographing plates that are plainly visible driving down the road. Thousands of plates are scanned during a sting operation, police said, but the jumble of letters and numbers is never looked at again.

The records are purged entirely in 90 days.

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