4 New License-Plate Reading Video Cameras Added to Montgomery Township Roads
By Barbara A. Preston | Posted September 14, 2023 (Updated at 4:30 pm)
Four high-tech motion-detecting video cameras that read and record license plates were installed on three busy Montgomery Township roads. In August, two were installed on Route 206 and one on Route 518. A fourth is expected to be activated on River Road this month.
Jason Larsen, the public information officer for the Montgomery Township Police Department, told The Montgomery News that the Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR), only capture license plates and vehicle characteristics, not people or faces.
"The cameras are used to solve and reduce property and violent crime, and are not intended for traffic or parking violations," he says. "Information captured is retained for a limited time and automatically purged."
A solar-powered Automatic License Plate Scanner (ALPR), as recently installed along Montgomery Township roads.
Flock Safety cameras are used in thousands of communities across the country, Larsen added, and the company works with more than 2,000 police departments. Communities using Flock Safety ALPR cameras have reported crime reductions of up to 70 percent.
The data retrieved from the Flock Safety solar-powered cameras will automatically be entered in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) data center, and the local police department will be notified instantly (milliseconds) if a plate matches that of a "wanted" or missing person.
The NCIC database includes individuals wanted for things such as terrorism, car theft, or violent crimes. In addition, it includes missing persons and AMBER alerts, to name a few. AMBER Alerts are intended to be issued when there is reason to believe that a child has been abducted and may be in danger of death or serious bodily injury.
"We are behind the curve on installing these cameras," Larsen said. The technology is now widely used among local and federal law enforcement officials in the US. The cameras are located in the following Montgomery locations: Route 518 between Pear Tree Drive and Province Line Road, Route 206 South by the Land Rover dealership, Route 206 North by the Belle Mead Garage, and one on River Road, the exact location had yet to be determined.
The initiative to install the cameras came from the NJ Attorney General's office and the state police, Larsen added. While the cameras do provide a public good in terms of fighting crime, some Montgomery residents have expressed on social media that the cameras violate their right to privacy.
Larson points out that the ALPR data is only stored for 30 days, for investigative purposes, then deleted.
Why Are Automatic License Plate Scanners Needed in Montgomery
Governor Phil Murphy and Acting Attorney General Platkin announced last year a $10 million investment in license plate recognition technology to reduce violent crime and motor vehicle theft in New Jersey through the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) State Fiscal Recovery Fund.
The funds will be used to purchase and expand existing high-speed, automated camera systems to capture and store computer-readable images of license plates in a centralized database accessible to law enforcement. The technology will be installed at both fixed locations throughout New Jersey and mounted on mobile units. This equipment provides law enforcement agencies additional tools to address the increase in motor vehicle thefts and a corresponding rise in violent crime seen in both suburban and urban areas of New Jersey.
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“The alarming uptick we are seeing in vehicle theft is unacceptable, and our administration is making investments to combat these occurrences statewide,” said Governor Murphy. “To aid law enforcement in this endeavor, an investment in ALPR technology will provide them with the tools they need to reduce these incidents and make our communities safer.”
Acting Attorney General Platkin said, “Thanks to Governor Murphy, we are investing significant resources to give law enforcement officers the tools they need to combat the rise in auto thefts across the state. Because stolen vehicles are increasingly used in the commission of violent shootings, deploying these automated license plate readers will save lives.”
Through the Murphy Administration’s $10 million ALPR program, a portion of the funding will be allocated to the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) to deploy cameras along major roadways that run throughout the state. Intelligence gathered will be shared by NJSP in real-time through the Regional Operations Intelligence Center and Real Time Crime Centers operated by the NJSP with relevant law enforcement partners as appropriate for investigative and operational need.
The remaining funding will be made available to county and local law enforcement agencies, through a competitive process, for the purchase, installation, and expansion of additional units and systems, in strategic locations throughout the communities they serve. All entities receiving funding under the program must abide by ARP rules and agree to share captured license plate information with the NJSP.
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The investment into ALPR technology advances ongoing efforts by OAG to combat the rise in auto thefts, including public service campaigns to raise awareness of the risks associated with leaving cars unlocked with the key or key fob inside. In March, OAG expanded the NJSP Auto Theft Task Force by adding detectives and prosecutors, as well as bringing on additional police departments from around the state. Additionally, $125,000 in federal Justice Assistance Grant funds is being made available to maximize the Task Force’s capabilities.
“The allocation of these financial resources to increase the use of automated license plate reader technology is, quite simply, a game changing moment in terms of our investigative capabilities,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “This investment will undoubtedly help combat the growing number of motor vehicle thefts and the associated rise in violent crime. I commend Governor Murphy and Acting Attorney General Platkin for their staunch efforts in supporting law enforcement's mission to target auto theft and make our communities safer."
The state has seen a serious spike in motor vehicle theft since the pandemic’s onset, an all-time high of 14,320 vehicles in 2021. Increases in motor vehicle theft have occurred across the state, in both suburban and urban areas. Stolen cars are frequently associated with other violent crimes, particularly shootings. A significant percentage of individuals who commit auto theft offenses have also been involved in shootings.
"Communities throughout New Jersey have witnessed an increasing number of stolen motor vehicles and this funding will help upgrade technology available to law enforcement and provide additional tools to help bolster our ability to investigate these serious crimes," said NJSPBA Executive Vice-President Marc Kovar. "We appreciate Governor Murphy's initiative in working to secure this critical funding and would also like to remind everyone of the importance of locking your car doors and taking your key fob along with you as you exit your vehicle."
How Does the System Work? ALPRs use optical character recognition to determine the license plate number of vehicles. The devices are designed to work with video cameras mounted on police cruisers or on stationary surveillance cameras mounted on poles along the roadside.
The United Kingdom also has an extensive plate recognition system located throughout its major cities. Every motion of a vehicle is stored for five years at the country’s intelligence centers in order to use later as evidence.
Some countries, such as Germany, have ruled that the use of automatic license plate readers are illegal because they violate the right to privacy.
The debate in the United States continues about whether this is a good thing for the citizenry and our freedom, yet despite some outcry, new monitoring systems are being deployed every day.