COLUMBIA — For over a month, local police have been testing a device that can scan thousands of license plates a day to check for stolen cars, stolen plates or for warrants associated with the plate numbers.
A few weeks ago, the Boone County Sheriff’s Department completed a 30-day demonstration of the Mobile Plate Hunter-900, a device developed by ELSAG North America Law Enforcement Systems, which is based in Brewster, N.Y.
The Columbia Police Department began a 30-day trial with the device on June 12, after the sheriff’s department completed their trial. The departments are seeking federal grants to purchase the device, which they said carries a price tag of $20,000 each.
The device uses two cameras to scan license plates — one with a color image, the other infrared — and matches the characters on the plate with numbers listed in law enforcement databases. The infrared camera allows the device to be used at night.
Officers can get results from a plate almost instantly and can effectively scan the plates of an automobile traveling up to 70 miles per hour in the opposite direction.
Boone County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Chad Martin said that during the department’s trial, at least three warrant arrests were made from use of the device, and two sets of stolen license plates were recovered, which also resulted in arrests.
“We’re pretty much sold on it,” Martin said. “It’s an amazing piece of equipment.”
Columbia police Sgt. Brian Richenburger of the Street Crimes Unit said that in just one day of use, officers were able to scan about 1,600 plates.
Richenburger said the device would “definitely pay for itself” in the time saved by officers using the device to check plates as opposed to manually calling in the numbers.
“It offers the opportunity to make arrests that you wouldn’t normally do in a shorter amount of time,” Richenburger said.
Officer Cathy Dodd, who also works with the Street Crimes Unit, said that as of Thursday, the device helped officers retrieve a stolen vehicle and make at least six arrests.
Martin and Richenburger said officers experienced no problems with the device.
Nathan Maloney, a spokesman for ELSAG, said 1,600 scanning devices are being used by 560 law enforcement agencies in all 50 states, Canada and Mexico. He said at least three agencies in Missouri were using the device.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, which includes the Kansas City metropolitan area, has also recently completed a demonstration of the product.
Capt. Michael Montgomery of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department said during their trial with the device, which was from Apr. 28 to May 22, the device read 144,367 plates. The scans resulted in 90 arrests on warrants and the recovery of 12 stolen cars.
Montgomery said the department was seeking to purchase the device, and the only problem deputies experienced during the demonstration was having enough available personnel to pursue all the drivers discovered to have warrants.