License plate reader ready for use

PARKERSBURG – With one deputy able to read license plates as he scans the streets and drives around the county, the city police are now getting in on the action.

The Wood County Sheriff’s Office has been using what is called an Automatic License Plate Reader, or ALPR, for about two and a half years.

Sgt. David Tennant with the sheriff’s office said he uses the license plate reader to check for stolen vehicles and license plates. Officers obtained the device through a county grant, which also supplied the West Virginia State Police Parkersburg Detachment with one, he said.

Tennant said he has had success with the reader, as he has found one stolen vehicle and five stolen plates since using the equipment.

“It makes a beeping sound, then I confirm the hit through dispatch,” Tennant said of the device. “It also checks for Amber Alerts and is updated through NCIC (National Crime Information Center) at least twice a day.”

On Tuesday, Parkersburg City Council unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding between the Parkersburg Police Department and the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center. The memorandum would allow for the installation of an ALPR, or Automatic License Plate Reader, on a city police cruiser.

“As it is being driven through the streets it reads every license plate it sees. It can identify any vehicle or license plate that has been reported stolen,” alerting the officer driving the equipped cruiser, said Parkersburg Police Chief Joe Martin.

“On the investigative side, we could punch in a specific plate we are looking for and it would tell us where it had been” if it had been previously picked up by a mobile license plate reader, Martin said.

During Tuesday’s meeting, council member Roger Brown briefly questioned Martin about the device, repeatedly comparing it to a “drone,” a remote controlled unmanned aerial vehicle used in military operations.

“Is this a drone?” Brown said. “Is this going to be used like drones?”

Martin said the device would be mounted on a car and would not operate independently.

“Will that patrol vehicle run 24 hours a day?” Brown said.

“No,” Martin said.

Martin said Wednesday the device would be installed and running on a police cruiser within about two weeks.

“As far as I’m concerned it is a very useful tool, a progressive tool,” he said. “It doesn’t provide us with any owner or driver data, just information on the car and the plate.”

Martin said the cost of the licence plate reader is upward of $22,000, and a unit wouldn’t be affordable for the department without the help of the fusion center.

The memorandum of understanding allows the department to use the item and share information with the center.

The camera remains the property of the center and would return to the center if it is no longer being used or if the police department chooses to terminate the memorandum of understanding.

According to the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center’s web site, in 2006, the president “approved the establishment of a national integrated network of state and major urban area information fusion centers.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have personnel at fusion centers.