License plate scanners are Vernon Hills' new weapon against crime
Knowing the village's vast retail base is a target for organized professional criminals, Vernon Hills police recently prepared for a strike.
Officers were on alert and monitoring various locations when a 911 call came in with partial vehicle information. An officer on patrol saw the car speed by and captured an image with an onboard camera.
It was too blurred to read.
"We still don't know what that plate is and we still don't know who the offenders are," Deputy Chief Patrick Zimmerman explained to the village board recently.
"That's putting everything -- all our tools -- together, and these people still got away," he said. "If we had an LPR system in place, we would have captured that license plate."
Zimmerman was referring to Automated License Plate Readers, and this and other instances were used this week in a successful pitch to the village to lease 10 such cameras to combat roving burglary crews and smash-and-grabbers, and help in the investigation of other crimes.
"This sounds like a great idea. I'm all for it," Trustee Thom Koch Jr. said after the presentation by Zimmerman and Police Chief Patrick Kreis.
Officials say strategically placed fixed cameras will provide color photos of a vehicle's license plate, color and type.
The system also will have features to recognize a vehicle manufacturer by logo, bodylines and light designs.
According to police, vehicles are used in most crimes committed in the village, and often even a partial vehicle description is the biggest lead. But without more detail it's hard to find the criminals, police say.
"I can't emphasize enough how important having license plate information is, because criminals tend to use what we call 'work cars,'" Kreis said.
Information gleaned from the cameras can provide strong leads immediately and help clear open cases, police say.
The system also would alert them to habitual retail theft offenders, burglary crews, registered sex offenders, missing persons, those sought in Amber or Silver alerts, and stolen vehicles.
Kreis said any jurisdiction in the country can submit information regarding wanted vehicles to the National Criminal Information Center, which generates a "hot list." The cameras will compare the images it takes with those on the hot list and alert police and dispatchers if there is a match.
Information captured by cameras would not be used to generate fines or issue tickets, Kreis emphasized. Images would be stored for 30 days.
"There are people who may be critical of such technology, that we are trying to track or keep track of everybody driving through town," Kreis said.
"This technology does not do that. It merely runs it against a known list of stolen vehicles or vehicles associated with a wanted or missing person."
The board informally agreed to proceed with a two-year contract at $20,000 per year, with Georgia-based Flock Safety, that includes a 60-day trial period with no obligation. The company will install and maintain the equipment and provide support.