June 9, 2011
Home Alarm Technologies – Using License Plate Readers to Catch Burglars?
The New York City suburbs are favorite targets of burglars, as often reported here. Now one municipality is turning to science for help in reducing and solving home intrusion crime in an era of manpower cutbacks and tight budgets – and the methodology is based on technology that already exists. From Greenburgh, NY, here’s a recent article on a novel approach that has raised a lot of support – plus a few concerns.
A string of burglaries in the Greenville neighborhood has led officials to consider installing license plate readers on a major thoroughfare. "I think it's the wave of the future," said police Chief Joseph DeCarlo, who wants the town to buy three or four readers for about $50,000. The department has mobile ones on two patrol cars.
The Thought Process
Three burglaries and two attempts have been reported in that area so far this year. The neighborhood, which DeCarlo said is attractive because of access to major roads for escape, was struck 20 times last year, he said. Plate readers would allow police to track cars on a certain route around the time of the burglaries, DeCarlo said. While it's still not clear exactly where the new readers would be placed, DeCarlo said it will likely be on a road with heavy traffic.
How It Works
The fixed cameras, assigned to one lane of traffic each, pick up the license plate number of every car that passes. Unlike the mobile devices that send data to an officer's laptop inside the cruiser, the stationary ones transmit the numbers to an off-site computer, where officers analyze it. If a plate number pops up that has been flagged by police, an alert could be sent to multiple officers, said Nate Maloney, spokesman for ELSAG North America, a Brewster, NY-based company that produces the devices. The cameras capture 1,800 "reads" a minute.
Timing is Right
A growing number of police departments with plate readers on patrol cars are adding them to roads and intersections, Maloney said. Police are learning that, in addition to using mobile readers to find stolen cars, fixed models can help with investigations. Bob Bernstein, president of the Edgemont Community Council, said they are sorely needed, especially with a shrinking police force. Some people are so afraid of burglaries, he said, they hire ex-cops to watch the area while they're on vacation. "This technology, if it works, would at least give the police some eyes on the ground to help identify vehicles that can be involved in these kinds of thefts," he said.
But There Are Concerns
A spokeswoman for the New York Civil Liberties Union said giving police the ability to "closely track people's movements and whereabouts" is a concern. Linda Berns, of the Lower Hudson Valley chapter, said the public should know whether the system has privacy protections. Police also should say how long data will be stored, how it will be used and who will have access to it, she said.
We like the idea of police being more efficient, and this technological solution can certainly help law enforcement do more with less. At a time when burglaries on increasing in many parts of the US, local budgets are under increasing pressure – and a standard response in many jurisdictions has been to remove patrol cars from the street.
Of course, FrontPoint would rather see you deter the burglars before they enter your home: it’s been shown that a home with a monitored alarm system has only one third the risk of being burgled as its unprotected neighbor. Plus, interactive monitoring and home automation features have taken today’s home security capabilities way beyond traditional protection. These safer, smarter home alarms have made FrontPoint the #1 ranked home alarm company in the US - but we’re also 100% in support of any measures that help take the bad guys off the street. If you’re shopping for peace of mind, choose FrontPoint: no hidden fees, the best interactive, wireless home alarm technology at the best price, and world-class service. And if you start seeing more cameras around where you live, remember that they’ve been put there to make you safer.