Vail approves license plate recognition cameras for police to help solve crimes |

Vail approves license plate recognition cameras for police to help solve crimes

Local law enforcement officials say the cameras will assist in preventing crimes and solving them

Dispatchers at the Vail Public Safety Communications Center work with local law enforcement to confirm the status of license plates that run through automatic license plate readers.
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The Vail Police Department was recently approved for six fixed license plate recognition cameras throughout town, and the Avon Police Department is seeking approval from the Avon Town Council for eight license plate recognition cameras fixed at town entrances.

The moves come as law enforcement agencies across the state are more widely implementing license plate recognition devices as an additional tool for crime solving.

Fixed license plate readers are currently found within Eagle County in Vail’s parking structures. Additionally, Eagle County law enforcement agencies utilize in-patrol-vehicle license plate recognition readers that automatically scan plates against a database of license plates associated with criminal investigations. 

Avon Police Chief Greg Daly said that in-car cameras with license plate reading capabilities were installed in all Avon police cars last year. The readers run automatically, scanning all license plates that come across its view.

State and national databases house information relating to open criminal investigations. License plate information associated with a crime may be entered by a law enforcement agency into those databases. So, if an in-car reader matches a plate to something within the database, it’ll beep to inform an officer so they can look into the issue. 

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On their own, the readers aren’t entirely effective, Daly said. An officer must manually check the plates to ensure they actually match what’s reported in the database. 

“In our cars, it doesn’t differentiate the state,” Daly said. “So, if I get a Colorado Plate — ‘ABC 123’ — and there’s a plate I wanted out of Georgia that’s ‘ABC 123,’ the system doesn’t differentiate them. Then, I have to look at the picture, see the state and then I would get on the radio and ask dispatch to confirm.”

If it turns out that the plate that the reader pinged is a confirmed match to one reported in the database, Daly said law enforcement will then act in accordance with the particular situation. 

“The benefit is if there’s an Amber alert, plates (involved in a situation with a) kidnapped child, and that plate pops up in our automatic license plate recognition, I’ll check that, and then obviously, it’s a potential to locate a kidnapped child,” Daly said. 

Lachlan Crawford, a detective sergeant with the Vail Police Department, is the point person on the deparment’s license plate recognition program, Chief Ryan Kenney said. Crawford said the fixed license plate recognition cameras set to be installed in Vail and under consideration for Avon would work the same way as the in-car readers do.

“It’s a passive system,” Crawford said. “It’s not a system where we can actively watch video feeds and monitor anything.”

Just like the in-car readers, when there’s a hit on a fixed automatic license plate recognition camera, an officer will still need to manually run that information and verify that it is correct before taking action. 

Daly said that several other Western Slope agencies have implemented fixed automatic license plate readers, including the Glenwood Springs Police Department, which installed 10 cameras in December. Since installing the readers, Daly said Glenwood Springs Police have located a homicide suspect, four stolen vehicles and have used the readers to solve a variety of other crimes.

Daly said that one of the main reasons the Avon Police Department is aiming to have the readers installed in town is to be alerted to stolen vehicles as they enter the area. Ideally, he said law enforcement would be able to intercept suspects before more crimes may be committed locally. 

“For most stolen vehicles, criminals, they’ll steal a vehicle in the Denver metro area, drive up here, come into town, steal another vehicle, rifle through that, dump it, steal another vehicle, et cetera, et cetera,” Daly said. 

While some areas have cameras leaving town as well as at town entrances, Daly said the Avon Police Department, at this time, is more interested in ingress.

“The main reason for me is to stop vehicles from being stolen from our residents,” Daly said. “It’s cutting-edge technology, but we want to use cutting-edge technology to benefit our community members. Why shouldn’t they have the benefit of getting justice by the latest and greatest technology that’s out there to solve a crime committed against them?”

As for the Vail Police Department, Crawford said the license plate readers could assist law enforcement in most criminal investigations, as it is rare for suspects to commit crimes and leave on foot or by bike. 

“Anybody coming into this area is driving in and driving out,” Crawford said. “So, vehicles tend to be a big part of that investigation.”

Crawford said that in more metropolitan areas, fixed automatic license plate readers have been in use for a while. However, more recent software has become available to a wider variety of agencies, Crawford said, thus opening Eagle County law enforcement agencies’ doors to the potential use of the crime-solving tool. 

Crawford said that discussions with the Vail Town Council about the cameras didn’t raise any privacy concerns. 

“This is nothing different to what’s already out there,” Crawford said.

The license plate readers set to be installed will only pick up the back of vehicles, Daly said, solely to get a rear license plate reading. “It doesn’t get the face of who’s driving or whatever else, it’s simply the back of the car,” Daly said. 

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