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Stationary license plate readers coming to Norcross roadways

NORCROSS — Investigation. Not enforcement.

That’s the way Norcross police Lt. Bill Grogan promises his department’s newest toys — stationary license plate readers mounted throughout the city — will be used.

Big brother will not be watching you, he said. Unless, of course, you’re already a criminal.

“What’s more important?” Grogan asked. “Me having your license plate in a database when I don’t care anything about you, or letting a murderer go free?”

The Norcross Police Department already operates about a dozen surveillance cameras at key points throughout the city, using them to monitor traffic and occasionally assist with investigations. It also has a pair of vehicle-mounted license plate readers, which have the capability of scanning the tag of every passing vehicle before determining if it’s connected to an arrest warrant, criminal suspect or offenses like expired insurance or a suspended license.

Within the next six weeks or so, similar LPR devices will be mounted on utility poles at various locations in the city.

The goal, police said, will not be keeping tabs on individual drivers, either by spotting traffic violations and putting a ticket in the mail or monitoring their movements through Norcross. With an estimated 100,000 vehicles passing through the city’s 6.5 square miles every weekday, the volume would be too much even if they wanted to.

The goal is essentially to track down suspects and vehicles tied to violent crimes against other people.

Grogan, who called himself “a Constitutionalist,” said his department takes public concerns about “Big Brother” seriously. But he also pointed an armed robbery that took place Tuesday night at a gas station on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard.

“The description by employees was of a black Chevy sedan,” Grogan said Wednesday. “If we had the system in place last night, that would be enough with the overview cameras of the intersections … to actually find the license plate. Or at least we’d have the chance.”

The first phase will have “nine lanes covered” by LPRs, Grogan said, with the eventual total likely to hit 30 lanes. Once they’re up and running, police will essentially be able to enter values like make, model or tag number and receive alerts when matching vehicles are captured on camera.

According to Grogan, data collected from other license plate readings will be kept for a short period of time — likely 30 days.

The new readers are being paid for by local sales tax funds.

“The criminals are keeping up with technology,” Grogan said. “And if we don’t, we might as well give up now.”