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RCSO gets new license plate scanner

CONYERS -- Law enforcement will soon have a new, tech-savvy way to help catch criminals.

The Rockdale County Sheriff's Office will have a car patrolling the streets with a new mobile license plate reader that scans car tags to identify stolen vehicles.

Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington presented information about the new equipment to the Board of Commissioners this week.

Costs for the reader and the associated supplies totaled $29,080. Funds from a Justice Assistance Grant, a federal grant through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will be used to purchase the new equipment. RCSO received the $178,055 grant last year.

Wigington said the reader, equipped with three cameras, will be installed in an RCSO vehicle and connected to a state and national computer system containing a "hot list" of tag numbers of stolen vehicles.

"And every day it receives a download from Georgia Crime Information Center and National Crime Information Center of all the stolen vehicles and anything that a lookout might be placed on the computer," Wigington said.

Besides stolen vehicles, the reader would also be able to pick up those who have outstanding arrest warrants, if tag numbers are associated with the warrant.

Wigington said the mobile reader will be able to read tags off vehicles going in the opposite direction and those going in the same direction as the moving patrol car. He expects the reader would be used in highly populated areas, such as parking lots, apartment complexes or "just parked on the side of the interstate."

"The locations where it would be used are just endless," Wigington said.

The sheriff expects deputies may even be able to pick up stolen vehicles and outstanding warrants from across the country.

"A lot of times you don't find stolen vehicles unless you have a lookout on that vehicle. Unless the deputy has a reason to run the tag, they may not even know that," Wigington said. "It just opens it up so much. It makes the deputy have the ability to look at thousands of tags a day versus the 10 or 20 they run in a normal shift."

Wigington added there was no need for the general public to be concerned that the reader may be picking up pertinent personal information while scanning tag numbers.

"It does not give any information except that the vehicle is stolen," Wigington said. "It does not technically run the tag of every person and know who they are."

Under prescribed guidelines, the JAG grant allowed RCSO to decide how the funds would be spent. RCSO identified the needs within the department and decided the mobile license plate reader would be an asset.

"This is a tool that we did not have and we think will definitely enhance our capabilities," Wigington said.

With RCSO deputies locating more stolen vehicles and finding the criminals responsible, the streets will be safer for the residents, the sheriff said. And Wigington hopes the word about the advanced technology will get out and deter future crime.

"Hopefully, we won't be a dumping ground for other inner-city thieves that steal vehicles and bring them out here," Wigington said.