Local police department’s new tool reads license plates automatically

PADUCAH, KY – Another set of eyes are looking out for you, but these ones are electronic.

We told you on Tuesday about an under-staffing problem at the Paducah Police Department. They need to hire about six more officers.

But in the meantime, the department is getting some help from this pretty cool tool.

John Smith is a patrol officer. He’s got a new partner that sits on the top of his car. “It doesn’t change my duties a lot. The license plate reader kind of does its own work,” Smith said. “It reads the license plates a lot faster than I can.”

They’ve been working together for two months. “Every car that I pass, it will reference the license plate against a national database and tell me if the car is stolen,” Smith said. “It can tell me if the owner of that car has a warrant or is on the sex offender registry.”

The automated license plate reader uses a GPS so the officer knows where they last saw the car if they get away.

“There’s not a speed limitation. We can go down the interstate and read plates going 80 miles per hour in the opposite direction,” Smith said. “I think the first week we had it, we had a stolen vehicle on Hinkleville Road.”

It captures plates from all angles. “There are three separate infrared cameras. So it doesn’t matter if it is day or night, it is going to read whatever is going by,” said Smith. The technology is only on his car and he’s the only officer that uses it right now.

Like most technology, it’s not perfect. The machine often reads signs and confuses them with license plates, but because it reads 900 license plates per minute it doesn’t really mess up the process.

The Paducah McCracken County Police Foundation paid for this. They partner with the police department to help improve our safety.

“We were really enthused when Chief Barnhill talked about the potential to capture things like amber alerts and stolen vehicles and so we’re kind of anxiously awaiting those results now to see how that has been implemented to help improve the public safety in Paducah,” Erica Harrison, chairman of the foundation, said.

Before this, to run a license plate, officers manually typed it in one at a time. “It does it a lot faster,” Smith said. “A lot faster than any human is going to do it.”

So watch out. You can drive fast, but you can’t hide.

Harrison said the technology cost around 25,000 dollars. She said some Kentucky State Police troopers have this tool, but Paducah Police is one of the few local police departments using this tool.

You can find out more information about this story and others by following Leah Shields on Facebook and Twitter.

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