LAWRENCEVILLE - If you drive your car past Investigator James Redfern's patrol cruiser and hope that he didn't spot your license plate, chances are you're out of luck.
The Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department has added a License Plate Recogniton system to its arsenal in the fight against crime. This hardware (two opposite-facing cameras attached to the trunk of the vehicle) and software has the ability to scan license plates at the rate of 15 per second on vehicles traveling up to 120 mph.
"It's like multiplying one officer by a thousand," Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway said.
The equipment, which costs in the neighborhood of $20,000, is somewhat complex yet simple in its operation.
Using a series of image manipulation techniques, cameras capture images of license plates and instantly run those images through a database that includes the sex offender registry and Recorder's Court bench warrants. It also has the capability to detect unlicensed and uninsured drivers and those with other outstanding criminal warrants if authorities have a suspect's license information.
"If there's a warrant out on someone and we have that information ... that they're driving a particular car ... it will pick that up," department spokeswoman Stacey Bourbonnais said.
If the system gets a "hit," Redfern is immediately notified by an audible alarm. The suspect tag displays on his notebook PC, and he begins his legwork of making sure the plate is the wanted tag.
"For instance, I have to make sure it's a Georgia tag and that it's on a particular vehicle," said Redfern, an investigator with the fugitive unit.
Since installing the equipment about three weeks ago, Redfern has made two felony and three misdemeanor arrests he likely would have missed without it. Two wanted people were apprehended and two stolen vehicles have been recovered.
For the sheriff's department, finding a stolen, stripped-down Honda Accord is good. Finding a sex offender in an area he or she shouldn't be is better.
"I make several trips to area parks every day," Redfern said.
The technology, used globally, has come under fire for issues such as privacy. For Conway, that's simply a non-issue.
"People can't expect a right to privacy with license plates," he said.
Conway said he is taking a look at requests for more units to be outfitted with the equipment, a move Redfern would welcome.
"As far as I'm concerned, the more we have, the better off we are," Redfern said.