Tennessee Using Electronic License Plate Readers to Find Stolen Cars

January 26, 2010

Electronic readers are getting positive reviews by Tennessee law enforcement agencies in Memphis and Shelby County.

Using infrared technology, they record the tags of passing vehicles that may have been stolen, used in crimes or are being driven by wanted suspects.

The Memphis Police Department plans to deploy dozens more mobile and fixed license-plate readers (LPRs) early this year, and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office has four of its own in the works.

“We’re always looking for ways to spend smarter,” Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell told The Commercial Appeal. “This is a force multiplier.”

The county evaluated the performance of LPRs in Memphis and elsewhere, Luttrell said, before making the move to buy four units, which will cost $25,000 each.

Grant funds will pay for the devices, which the sheriff’s office plans to have in place by March.

In Memphis, the police department plans to roll out nearly two dozen more tag readers for squad cars within the next month, said Real Time Crime Center system manager John Harvey. This will raise the department’s total of cars equipped with technology to 73.

The LPRs have led to numerous arrests, Harvey said, adding that he believes the numbers will grow as the technology improves and officers become more comfortable using the units.

One of the Memphis LPRs flagged a Toyota Camry this month as one that had been reported carjacked, leading to charges against the car’s owner for filing a false report.

Within the next six months, the police department also plans to install 37 LPRs at fixed locations, primarily on local interstates.

Those cameras will be monitored in the Real Time Crime Center and allow officers to detect patterns on stolen vehicles, as well as track known gang members, sex offenders and other persons of interest.

The cameras can read and record a tag number within milliseconds, Harvey said. The tag readers will give county deputies the tools to become more efficient, Luttrell said.

“This is one we’ve been studying for awhile,” he said. “We’re starting to see higher levels of traffic, and there’s a demand for a more aggressive form of enforcement.”

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