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Camden sheriff embraces patrol device
WOODBINE -- Motorists driving with a suspended license, an expired tag, no insurance or having an outstanding warrant for their arrest may want to avoid Camden County for the next couple of weeks.

The Camden County Sheriff's Office is using a demonstration model of a device called the License Plate Reader for one month to determine whether it will be worth $24,500 to buy one.

The reader is a bank of cameras mounted on the trunk of a patrol car that can continuously scan every license plate within a quarter mile in both directions of a highway.

Vehicle plate numbers from every state are scanned by a computer to determine if the vehicle is insured, if the plate is stolen and whether the owner of the vehicle has a valid driver's license. The scanner is also a valuable tool when an Amber Alert for a missing child is issued or if police are on the lookout for a vehicle.

"It can scan many more plates than the human eye and brain ever could," said Deputy William Terrell, spokesman for the Camden Sheriff's Office.

Deputies have used the plate reader in a variety of locations throughout the county, including parking lots, Interstate 95 and high- and low-traffic areas.

The reader works equally as well when the patrol car is moving or stationary.

Terrell said the volume of traffic is not an issue, even on I-95.

"It seems to work equally well and reads the plates in near real time," he said.

Other than heavy fog limiting the reader's range, weather conditions, including rain, have little effect on its ability to read plates.

The reader allows the department to enforce state laws in a consistent and effective manner, Terrell said.

"Those who drive without insurance merely increase the risk and cost for law-abiding drivers," he said. "The same goes for citizens who do not pay for a valid vehicle registration."

The majority of violations found by deputies using the reader have been no insurance and invalid registrations, Terrell said.

"It's rather surprising to see how many people are riding around without valid registration," he said.

Since May 15, deputies using the reader have made 10 arrests for driving on a suspended license and 18 arrests for having no valid insurance. Deputies also have issued 52 tickets for invalid or suspended vehicle registrations, he said.

In addition, one stolen vehicle was recovered, and a woman wanted in Florida on warrants was arrested.

While the department has heard concerns it is moving too close to being Big Brother, a term often used to describe government spying on citizens in George Orwell's "1984," Terrell said that's not the case.

Information from the plate reader is checked by a state criminal database to verify accuracy.

"In terms of the validity of the vehicle/plate registrations, the motorist has no expectation of privacy," Terrell said. "This is simply an effective use of the current technology to allow our deputies to work smarter. The device only lets the deputy do much quicker what he/she already has the authority to do."

Sheriff Jim Proctor said if the reader works as good as the company claims it does, he would like to buy two.

"The deputies like using it," he said. "It makes their jobs easier. We're very pleased with how it works."

* Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at gjackson@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 464-7655.



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