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State police testing device that IDs suspect vehicles

By Joe Grata
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Matches flashed instantly onto screens in patrol cars

State police on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are experimenting with a high-tech device that reads license plates and provides instant crime information.

Like 1:26 p.m. Monday, when Trooper Donald Hardeman pulled over a Honda Accord racing down the toll road at 91 mph in Chester County.

As soon as Trooper Hardeman pulled behind the car, an infrared TV camera detected the vehicle as stolen and posted the information on a screen on the console. He called backup to help remove the three occupants, who were arrested and also charged with a series of burglaries in the Harrisburg region.

Police also confiscated a loaded handgun.

The Motorola Automatic License Plate Reader “gave us a tactical advantage,” said Lt. Adam Kisthardt, part of the technology bureau staff at Pennsylvania State Police headquarters in Harrisburg.

Motorola, the manufacturer, chose Pennsylvania State Police over other departments nationwide to experiment with the new technology.

At no expense to state police, it has installed cameras and support equipment on seven turnpike patrol cars that operate out of Bowmansville Barracks east of Harrisburg. The program on the turnpike will continue for 45 days.

“The cameras can read in snow, rain, in bright sunshine or total darkness,” Lt. Kisthardt said. “They read the reflective lettering and numbers on plates and, in a split second, compare the image to information in the CLEAN network,” the statewide database where law enforcement agencies post stolen vehicles, fugitives, all points bulletins and Amber alerts.

“The license plate list carries only criminal information, so 99.9 of the vehicles not on the ‘hot list’ and with no correlation to crime are dumped immediately” by the Automatic License Plate Reader, said Lt. Krishardt.

For a match that is made instantaneously, a picture of the wanted vehicle is posted on the screen mounted inside the police car to indicate a “hit.”

“The beauty of the system is this: As a trooper drives down the road or sits along the road, the equipment reads every license plate he encounters and runs it through the system,” Lt. Krishardt said.

The units are expected to cost about $12,000 if the state police become interested and able to afford them as another crime-fighting technology.

“If they’re deemed a benefit, we’ll seek support in obtaining it,” the lieutenant said.

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