DeKALB – DeKalb Police Department officials still are looking to set up a dozen recently approved license plate reader cameras by November as they field surveillance-related concerns from the community.
DeKalb Police Chief David Byrd said the cameras, which take pictures of license plates and vet them for information, will better aid criminal investigations for police. However, he said he wanted to be clear LPRs, as law enforcement calls them, are not meant to be used for total community surveillance.
“It’s not facial recognition software,” Byrd said. “It’s based more on vehicle ID, license plate ID” that scans in real time.
The cameras can be mounted onto a squad car or something stationary like a highly trafficked intersection and are designed to take photos of license plates as vehicles travel past.
The software inside the camera then runs the photo through a database set up by the police department to track plates connected to ongoing investigations. The readers are designed to only flag license plates that are connected to an ongoing crime, a missing person or someone facing criminal charges, city staff said.
According to DeKalb city documents, that means the software potentially can flag a stolen car or identify a person wanted for a crime, and also can capture vehicles leaving the scene of a 911 emergency in progress.
“It would be routed to our communication system, which then will be routed out to the field and then officers will respond,” Byrd said.
Byrd said he received emails from some residents who were worried about random vehicle tracking. He added that is “not what this is for” and the technology is “for us to combat criminal activity within the city of the DeKalb.”
“So this is not about ‘My license plate’s suspended, my license plate is expired.’ That is not with this will be used for,” Byrd said. “We are only using this resource for felonious vehicles. They come into the city of DeKalb, and at that point, that’s when the whole process will be triggered.”
The update comes after the DeKalb City Council unanimously approved a five-year contract for 12 license plate readers from CDS Genetec, with the total cost $145,865, during an Oct. 11 meeting.
[ License plate cameras headed to DeKalb Police Department ]
During the meeting, DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas recalled how DeKalb Police Chief David Byrd said he wanted to purchase and install license plate readers during a Sept. 8 community public crime and safety meeting at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. The September meeting was meant to address crime and the increased number of shootings in DeKalb, namely in the Annie Glidden North neighborhood.
Nicklas said previously there exists people who are “bent on causing mischief” and come into DeKalb to lay low – and, “while they’re here, maybe do a little business while they’re at it.”
Byrd said he thinks LPRs will help crime issues in the city “immensely.”
“We’ll be able to put a net over the city and basically protect our perimeters so that, when we have violent offenders that come into our town, we will be notified,” Byrd said.
The three vendors who submitted bids, including CDS Genetec, were asked to price the installation of 12 license plate readers at five main intersections throughout the city, according to city documents. CDS Genetec was the only vendor that would let the police department own the cameras at the end of the five-year contract, with the cameras estimated to have a work life of seven to eight years.
Every now and then police will get a BOLO, or “be on the lookout,” alert, Byrd said. However, he said “that’s just intel.”
“Now you’ll have knowledge that they’re actually in town,” Byrd said.
Byrd said police officials hope to have the dozen readers installed throughout the city by November.
City of Sycamore
Sycamore Police Chief Jim Winters said during a Sept. 20 Sycamore City Council meeting that police officials began to explore some options and applications of license plate readers.
Winters added during the meeting that the department also is trying to see if any grant funding would be available going forward.
“I just kind of want to give you a little bit of information about those as we’re researching,” Winters told aldermen.
Winters said Monday the department still is exploring LPRs and has been participating in a trial for about a month, with about 90 more days to go. He said Sycamore police are trying to “see how they work and what information they can provide.” Once police officials learn more about how the cameras works, they will make the decision of whether to actually pursue the purchase.
“I think that’s good technology that’s available to us,” Winters said. “It’s not that intrusive and it could act as a force multiplier for us.”
Winters said there are always investigations where officers are “just looking for one more piece of the puzzle” to solve a case. He said the technology isn’t new, but it’s now more affordable, available, user friendly and accessible overall.
“That’s when we really started looking into it a little more,” Winters said.
Winters cited the statistic that 70% of crimes involve a vehicle.
“If you can get more leads on a vehicle, you … would have a better chance of solving an investigation,” Winters said. “Whether [offenders are] in town or [coming from] out of town, it really doesn’t make a difference. It’s really to capture vehicles that are involved in a crime.”
Winters specified the scanners aren’t a live feed, where you see moving pictures of traffic going by in real time. He said the scanners only “takes an impression of,” more often than not, “the back license plate.”
Winters said he’s unclear how the flow of information works once a scanner would capture license plate information in Sycamore. He said police are “still learning the intricacies” of the system and there is no target date for installation.
“I think we’ll learn more about that as we continue to look into it and talk with agencies that already have it,” Winters said. “We’re still learning.”
An earlier version of this story referred to an abbreviation for license plate readers incorrectly. It should be ‘LPRs.’ This story has been edited accordingly as of 12:50 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021.