It might sound like pages ripped from a George Orwell novel, but local police say automatic license plate reader technology is just one of several future-forward tools are helping authorities crack down on criminal activity.
In February, the State Law Enforcement Division issued the Rock Hill Police Department one automated license plate reader system that is now attached to a city patrol car.
Officer Tim Allen uses the system on a daily basis and, as of recent, credits 80 traffic stops to ‘hits,’ or alerts identified by the system.
Allen has worked in Rock Hill for the last seven years and is assigned to the city’s Traffic Unit, a team specifically tasked with enforcing traffic laws.
After approximately six weeks in use, the system read more than 13,000 plates using to cameras affixed to the side of his patrol car.
The system reads the license plates and compares the information to a list of national, state and municipal databases. Across the state, agencies taking part in the system include Mount Pleasant Police, Columbia Police, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office and Myrtle Beach Police Department.
It also connects to the State Law Enforcement Division and the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.
In December 2012, State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, prefiled a bill in the State House of Representatives seeking to ban such systems in South Carolina. “We don’t need more government in our lives,” Rutherford told WLTX-TV in Columbia. “Can government also take that information and sell it?” [full text of prefiled bill]
The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee on January 8.
Elsewhere in York County, police in York used a similar system, while across the state, police in Spartanburg, Horry and Charleston counties employ automated license plate readers.
“In Charleston, they have the cameras attached to the Arthur Ravenel Bridge,” Allen said. “Your plate is scanned in an area where there’s only one exit. You can’t run.”
Back in Rock Hill, Allen says the license plate reader technology saves him time — and catches things he might otherwise miss.
Each system costs approximately $15,000. Allen says department staff are currently applying for grants to purchase additional units in in the future.