License plate readers lead to rise in arrests and impounds


The stepped-up law enforcement is the result of a new license plate reader, or LPR, that can check car license plates against a “hot list” of plates from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. The village put its LPR into action on September 28, and it has already resulted in 36 arrests, according to police records. That amounts to an average of one arrest per shift the LPR is used, Village Police Chief William Wilson said Friday. “It definitely is a phenomenal tool.”

For now, the LPR, which was obtained through a law enforcement grant, is only used five times a week for eight hours each time—the schedule of Christopher Wetter, the one officer who operates the department’s LPR-equipped police cruiser. The chief said he chose Officer Wetter for the duty because he was previously assigned to the department’s traffic squad.

Chief Wilson said that by Memorial Day he wants to have the LPR on the road 24 hours a day.

In response to concerns that LPRs violate people’s privacy and represent the arrival of “Big Brother,” Chief Wilson was firm. “You have no reasonable expectation of privacy on a public roadway,” he said. “Driving is a privilege, not a right.”

The reader has two cameras: one positioned to scan license plates in traffic, and a second one that is aimed to read plates on parked cars as an officer drives by. The LPR-equipped car can also be parked near a busy street and read cars’ plates as they pass.

Each of the 36 cars the village LPR flagged had suspended vehicle registrations. In almost all cases, the registrations were suspended for insurance lapses. On two occasions, drivers had their registration suspended for writing bad checks. Several of the drivers pulled over for having suspended registrations were also cited for having a suspended license, and one was discovered to be using swapped license plates.

Driving with a suspended registration and driving with a suspended license are both misdemeanor charges, punishable by up to a year in prison.

“These drivers have no business being on the road, and they pose a danger to everybody,” Chief Wilson said. He added that uninsured drivers cause everyone else’s car insurance premiums to go up.

The unregistered cars were all impounded on Windmill Lane, behind the police station. Chief Wilson said when he returned from 11 weeks in Virginia at the FBI National Academy, he noticed the impound had gotten a lot more crowded. Owners are charged $10 a day for cars in the impound. “It’s probably a little low, but we had to start somewhere,” he said of the fee. He said the department may look at raising the fee in June, after the LPR is on the road more often and the impound gets even more crowded.

Cars can stay in the lot from anywhere between 24 hours and two years, Chief Wilson said. Sometimes drivers never even come for their cars. The cars may be leased, and rather than getting the car out, the drivers leave it up to the car dealerships to repossess them, the chief explained.

The village has already collected about $15,000 in storage fees through the impound lot, according to Chief Wilson. And when the police take possession of a car, they must first go through the contents and catalog everything, he noted. Sometimes, that can lead to getting drugs and illegal weapons off the streets, he said.

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