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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Cameras that record license plates prove their worth

Law-abiding motorists who drive through the intersection of 15th Street and 122nd Avenue in unincorporated Hillsborough County have no reason to be concerned about the two cameras affixed to a nearby pole.

But car thieves and others involved in criminal activity might regret driving in the area.

That’s because the cameras are recording license tags and sending the images to national and state crime computers, where the tags are checked against millions of tags associated with reported crimes or missing persons.

In the first year of operation, the images captured at that intersection have alerted local law enforcement to more than 1,000 vehicles that were possibly stolen, used in the commission of a crime, or registered to someone reported missing.

As the Tribune’s Jose Patina Girona reports, in just the past several months the cameras have helped recover eight stolen vehicles. Additionally, law enforcement officers investigating a shooting near the intersection were able to review footage of a tag captured by the cameras and identify an address as part of their investigation.

That’s a good enough record to consider expanding the cameras to other areas of the county where criminal activity affects the lives of the people living in those communities.

Civil libertarians raise valid concerns about handing law enforcement the power to record the movement of innocent motorists who are unaware their tags are being harvested. But the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office has put checks in place that mitigate those concerns. Images that are not part of an investigation are deleted after 90 days, and access to the system is restricted within the department.

The Sheriff’s Office obtained the tag reader software as part of a larger grant to install surveillance systems in neighborhoods around the University of South Florida. The $25,000 system at 15th Street and 122nd Avenue is the only tag reader operating in the county for now.

Surveillance has become a necessary part of our lives. From the airport to the mall to downtown Tampa streets, few of our trips go unrecorded. Harnessing the power of those cameras to solve crimes seems like a natural progression worth pursuing.

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