MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Upper Allen Township is the first police department in Cumberland County and one of the few in the Midstate to get new license plate readers. This comes after the state did away with license plate stickers.
The readers are designed to find vehicles with expired registrations or stolen vehicles. Police say it has also led to more DUI arrests and finding people with active warrants.
Officer Michael Keister gave ABC27 News a ride along and showed how the license plate readers work. The police department has seven patrol vehicles, but Keister’s truck is the only one with the technology. Three cameras mounted on the roof feed information into a laptop inside the vehicle.
“It’s been great. My production has gone way up,” Keister said. “I have a lot more citizen contacts. I’d say three-quarters of my stops for the license plate readers are warning cards, so it’s a nice positive interaction.”
“When we make a traffic stop, the more information we have about that vehicle, the better off the officers are,” Chief James Adams said.
Adams helped to secure a $22,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Auto Theft Prevention Authority for the technology.
“It’s important especially if it’s a stolen car. Without the system, the officer on every traffic stop would have to call it in,” Adams said.
The reader scans license plates. The picture on the laptop shows the vehicle and license plate. The screen turns yellow if the vehicle has expired registration and red if it’s stolen.
“What happens then is I would just pull out behind the car, run it, verify that it is either expired or suspended and then initiate the traffic stop,” Keister said.
“Ideally, you would have statewide standards, but at the very least, police department themselves can implement policies to ensure that they’re not running into problems with violating people’s privacy,” said Andy Hoover, the communications director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
The ACLU believes departments shouldn’t hold onto information from readers unless it’s for an ongoing investigation. Adams says they delete information after 15 days.
“Where is the police car capturing this information? On public streets and parking lots that are open to the public,” Adams said.
Adams believes license plate readers will be the future for police in Pennsylvania, especially when the cost for them begins to go down.