Buckhannon police using hi-tech tool

BUCKHANNON – The Buckhannon Police Department has acquired a new tool that will assist it in solving crimes that are alleged to have occurred not only in Upshur County, but also in every other county in the state.

Police Chief Matt Gregory said the department was recently granted a License Plate Reader – commonly known as an LPR – through its relationship with a local Fusion, or information- sharing, center.

“It’s a very technical, very hi-tech piece of equipment,” Gregory told Buckhannon City Council last week. “In fact, it’s probably one of the most hi-tech pieces of equipment we have in our arsenal.”

Although many people know LPRs are utilized to search for stolen cars, the apparatus has several other important capabilities, Gregory told council.

Comprised of three cameras mounted to the top of a police cruiser and a computer unit bolted down inside the cruiser, the LPR scans license plates and “instantaneously” takes three pictures – a color photo, a black-and-white photo and a zoomed-in, or close-up, photo of the license plate. It then displays those images on a computer screen.

With the help of wireless Internet connectivity, the license plate information is then entered into a West Virginia State Police warrant database, and the name of the person to whom the license plate is registered is retrieved.

“It will run that person’s name through the database and determine whether or not they have a warrant anywhere in the state of West Virginia, and show active warrants in any county in the state,” Gregory said. “Also, when a plate is scanned, it will run across a ‘hot list’ that we receive twice a day from the West Virginia Intelligence Exchange.”

Gregory said the “hot list” is sent out every 12 hours and updates the BPD “on anything any police agency is looking for a vehicle for.”

“Therein lies the versatility of the LPR, not just for stolen cars – certainly that’s very much included – but for any reason a police agency would be looking for a car and would enter its license plate number say, a theft, or a hit-and-run or an Amber Alert,” he said.

When the LPR “hits” on a car with a wanted license plate, an alert sounds and the reason the officer should stop the vehicle appears on the computer screen, Gregory explained.

Patrolman First Class William Courtney is operating the unit, which normally costs a department $20,000 to purchase. However, because of its association with the Fusion Center, the BPD only had to pay approximately $600 for the installation of a computer mount inside Courtney’s cruiser and $50 for monthly wireless connectivity.

The LPR scanned about 1,300 license plates in its first week of operation, Gregory said.

Contact Katie Kuba by email at kkuba@theintermountain.com. Follow her on Twitter at IMT_Kuba.