License plate readers used but uncommon in Northeast Wisconsin
GREEN BAY (WBAY)-- License plate readers are becoming more popular, and can help police locate suspects.
Authorities credited smart technology for helping spot the car driven by the man who shot and killed the TV news crew in Virginia.
Plate readers are being used in Northeast Wisconsin in a place you may not expect.
When it comes to public safety concerns on UW-Green Bay's campus, the big problem is parking. Specifically, people who shouldn't be parking on campus.
"The ability to scan license plates, as opposed to walking and looking for paper decals, is a huge force multiplier," says UWGB Officer Tony Decker. "We used to spend hours and hours running through the lots, but now we can run the entire campus in less that two hours."
Last year, the university began using license plate readers.
Mounted on the top of two squad cars, the tiny cameras scan plates as officers drive by, then record and compare the information to their database, checking if the car is supposed to be there.
"Every time that it beeps, it registers that a plate has been read," says Decker, showing us how it works as he drives through a parking lot.
Decker then shows us what happens if a car isn't registered.
A recorded voice on his in-squad computer sounds with a loud noise, saying "Permit alert, permit alert," and the screen turns red.
While the readers are primarily used for parking at UWGB, Decker says security is a big part of it.
He can manually enter a plate another agency may be looking for.
"Gas drive offs, ATLs (attempt to locate), this person was in a domestic and they just left. You just type in it real quick, and we'll know right away if it comes up," says Decker.
They can't miss the alarm, sounding like a siren going off inside the squad car.
"The way the world works now, crime is very mobile, and a lot of people like to use cars to do that," says Decker.
Once a day, public safety officials download lists, from both state and federal authorities, showing all the stolen vehicles that are wanted right now, or ones that have suspended plates. Decker says they've actually found some of those cars on campus.
It does raise questions of privacy, but on public property, Decker says that's not a concern.
"That was brought up initially. Our chief of police has been very good about purging the data after a set period of time, so there's not a huge database of everybody that was there," he says.
We checked with the larger law enforcement agencies in Northeast Wisconsin, including the Wisconsin State Patrol. None of them are currently using these readers, but Green Bay Police say they briefly looked into them.
The Brown County Sheriff's Office applied for a grant to buy the readers, but was unsuccessful.
Law enforcement say cost is part of the reason they don't have the readers.
Decker says they run in the tens of thousands of dollars, but to UWGB, it's a price worth paying.