Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office part of license plate recognition program

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The Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office is one of several participating in a program using the license plate recognition system to identify uninsured motorists and help stop vehicle theft.

Senate Bill No. 250, if passed into law, would create the Statewide Motor Vehicle Theft and Uninsured Motorists Identification Program.

This program would use the license plate recognition system to deter motor vehicle theft and in the identification of uninsured motorists, according to the bill’s digest.

“There’s two different types of cameras,” Bossier/Webster District Attorney Schuyler Marvin said. “One can be mounted on the light bar of the car, about the size of a softball, and it’s a camera that only reads license plates. The general purpose of it is to find vehicles that don’t have general liability insurance.”

The other type of camera is a stationary one that can be set on a highway like Homer Road or Highway 531.

Sgt. Mike Vaitkus, in traffic safety with the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office, says their department has been using the recognition system for years, and it has served to help stop vehicle theft, even putting away high profile suspects.

“It’s recovered several stolen vehicles,” he said. “It’s recovered several high profile people wanted by the FBI and other various agencies. It’s alerted on people on the terrorist watch lists. It’s done its job.”

Marvin says this will be effective for Bossier and Webster parishes as well.

“If a car that (a deputy) passed has an Amber Alert on it or a Be On The Lookout, or wanted in an armed robbery, it immediately notifies him on his laptop,” he said. “He’s able to turn around and conduct a traffic stop after he has proper backup. That’s what we like about it.”

Vaitkus explained the cameras work on reflectivity and come equipped with infrared technology. The infrared lights “see” the license plates and the camera snaps a picture. As soon as the photo is taken, it quickly cross-references the plate with a database in the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC.

“As soon as it captures that plate, before anyone can type the first few numbers of a license plate, it will automatically check it, and it will pop up if there’s an alert,” he said.

That doesn’t mean there’s no back up. Vaitkus says if an alert does pop up on the system, the officer or deputy still has to check with dispatch and run the plate to make sure the information is accurate, because the system does not recognizes states, only plate numbers. A motorist may have the same license plate number as someone else, but it could be from two different states.

“You might get a hit confirmation on a license plate, but that license plate might be out of Georgia and not Louisiana,” he said. “You have to pay attention and we have checks and balances in place to make sure no one is pulled over wrongfully.”

Marvin says Webster Parish Sheriff Gary Sexton is excited about the prospect of getting the cameras, as it is another tool in helping law enforcement in their quest to find uninsured motorists. He made it clear the burden of having liability insurance would lie with the owner of the vehicle and not the driver, saying 22 percent of motorists in Louisiana do not carry general liability insurance.

He says his office and the sheriff’s office has entered into an agreement with a private company to maintain the cameras, and 30 percent of the fine from the ticket would go to this company. It won’t cost the sheriff’s office or the DA’s office a dime, he says.

“We don’t have any liability for the cameras, maintenance or anything,” Marvin said. “The public safety part of it is huge.”
He recalled the burglary at Harper Motors where all the vehicles were jacked up and all the tires were stolen. He says those are the kinds of crimes having the recognition system would solve. Had they had the cameras, he says, they would have been able to identify the perpetrators much sooner.

“We want to get it started as soon as possible,” he said.

If passed into law, then he hopes to have the program put in place by the first of the year.

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