Emanuel discusses rollout of police license plate readers
by KEVIN GROSS
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other city officials discussed the rollout of new license plate readers and other police technology at a press conference March 6 at the 17th (Albany Park) District police station, 4650 N. Pulaski Road.
"Before there was a shot, and then we would try to prevent the second shot," Emanuel said. "Today, through technology, data, we’re actually going to a place to prevent the first shot from ever happening rather than reacting and preventing the second shot. That’s a full transformation of mindset, culture, infused with new technology."
Emanuel discussed the license readers at the conference with police superintendent Eddie Johnson, aldermen Ariel Reboyras (30th) and Patrick O’Connor (40th), and 17th District commander Ronald Pontecore Jr.
The license plate readers are mounted on top of squad cars, facing the front and the rear, which automatically scan any license plates in the vicinity before feeding plate numbers to squad vehicles’ computers, automatically cross- referencing the numbers with records such as stolen vehicle lists.
"Any time that there’s a vehicle involved in any sort of crime, be it an armed robbery, burglary, anything, if we can get a description of the plate or anything of the vehicle we can enter that into our system," Pontecore said after the conference. "And what happens is that these (police) cars, as they’re driving throughout the district, if they get anything close, even if it’s a partial plate, if they run into that it’ll pop on that (computer) screen and give them (officers) an alert that this car was involved in an incident, with details."
Plate readers have also been installed in many of the city’s red light and speed cameras and on mounted surveillance cameras.
Superintendent Johnson described the new plate readers as a major improvement over the old system of tracking suspects’ vehicles, which would often require officers to track plate numbers on the street and call a dispatcher to reference records.
"And remember, with the radio traffic that we have in any particular police district, that takes time, because there’s a lot of radio traffic so we had to wait until that bandwidth opens up so the dispatcher could take (the call). It could take some time," Johnson said. "This (technology) gives it to them in seconds, so we don’t have to wait. That makes us a lot more proactive with what were doing."
Emanuel announced the planned rollout of the first 200 patrol vehicles with plate readers on Jan. 8. Emanuel said that the rollout would bring the city to a total of 244 vehicles equipped with the technology, in addition to 126 pole mounted and mobile booster vehicles that are used by other city agencies.
The mayor said that technology being rolled out in the past 2 years such as plate readers or Strategic Decision Centers, which use predictive analytics to deploy patrols and allow officers to link with surveillance camera systems, could help with apprehending criminals and in preventative policing.
"The old ‘shoe-leather’ kind of policing will be influenced by technology from more license plate readers, more body cameras, more tasers, and each of these investments have enhanced both our predictive, proactive and professional policing throughout our city," Emanuel said. "We’re increasing the overall police officers and patrolmen, which are the backbone of the police department, by 1,000 officers. We also now have 19 (police) districts that have strategic centers that have predictive policing, Shot Spotters (that detect gunshot sounds), additional cameras, that go right to the iPhones of officers out on the street."
The 17th Police District rolled out its full Strategic Decision Center on Feb. 9, Pontecore said, although the district has not yet received Shot Spotter devices.
The new technology has not been without its critics concerning issues of privacy. A 2013 American Civil Liberties Union analysis of more than 26,000 pages of plate reader documents from law enforcement agencies in 38 states reported that in 2012, the State of Maryland’s plate reader technology registered only 0.2 percent of its more than 29 million plate reads as "hits," with 97 percent of hits being for a suspended or revoked registration or a vehicle emissions inspection violation, and 47 of every million read plates being potentially associated with a "serious crime" such as a stolen vehicle or a wanted person.
Additionally, an April 2016 article by The Doings newspaper reported that Darien and La Grange police found their plate readers to be faulty at times, sometimes scanning numbers on objects such as mailboxes or street signs as license plate numbers.
"Whether you live in an area that has a low or high crime rate, the fact of the matter is that we’re only as good of a community as the police force in our community, and these types of investments in the police department are the things that allow us to combat crime and to lower crime," O’Connor said. "And not only things that help you catch somebody who has committed a crime, but quite honestly they’re a deterrent."