NEW PORT RICHEY — The job just got easier for six members of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office patrol unit.
The unit is using license plate scanning technology that can take a photo of a car's tag and run it through a database.
The software, purchased from Oldsmar-based PlateSmart Technologies, can detect whether a plate number is suspended and identify the registered driver linked to the plate, whether that driver has a valid license and on what car that plate should be affixed, among other things. Two cameras are mounted inside the car, and night vision lamps affixed outside the unit help the cameras pick up plate numbers at night.
“It allows us to do our job faster and quicker,” Sgt. Art Rowand said. “Law enforcement all over the country run tags; that's just what they do. It allows us to locate Amber Alerts, missing people, as well as stolen vehicles, people with expired tags, driver's license issues.”
Depending on how the cameras are positioned in a deputy's patrol unit, cars in front or to the left and/or right of the cruiser can be scanned.
Software attached to the digital cameras allows them to detect the letters and numerals on a plate, even at high speeds, and run that data through the National Crime Information Center and Florida Crime Information Center databases. It also can match those plates against a cache of names input by the sheriff's office without tapping into the state or national database, strictly for local use.
The cost of the scanning system was $64,365, and the money was provided by the Pasco Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention.
Although there is no official count yet, traffic stop numbers are likely on the way up.
“Its definitely increased my traffic stops,” Deputy Kelly Endricks said.
He estimated that last week the system in his car ran more than 2,500 tags. Of those, 20 to 30 cars had issues — from an expired tag to a suspended driver's license.
The sheriff's office has five cars fitted with the scanners. A sixth package is portable and can be moved from one patrol unit to another.
The scanners have been in used for roughly four months in Pasco County.
Before using the scanning system, Endricks assumed cars that were at a distance or vehicles that sped past his parked patrol unit would not be detected by the cameras.
He was wrong.
“We let them know that if we're not watching, the camera's definitely watching,” Endricks said.
Agencies in Port Richey and Clearwater use PlateSmart, and Pinellas and Polk deputies use other plate reading systems.
Before selecting PlateSmart from a short list of other scanning systems, Rowand did a ride-along with the Florida Highway Patrol.
“So I could look at the pros and cons of each system,” Rowand said.
Another benefit of the plate scanning system is the GPS feature. If a plate is scanned while a deputy is out of the car, deputies in other equipped cruisers will see it pop up on their screens. Those deputies can pursue the flagged vehicle if necessary.
“As far as safety is concerned, whenever you run a plate and there is an unlicensed driver inside the vehicle or suspended driver, there's a reason for that suspension,” Endricks said. “It can range from anything from not having valid insurance (to) not paying a traffic fine. It could be they're suspended for a DUI. If we're running these tags, … it's getting these people that are not valid off the road who could cause injury to other people. If you get someone off the road that shouldn't be driving in the first place, you could save a family member.”