DMPD License Plate Readers Help Solve Crime

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Cameras aren't anything new when it comes to modern day police work, but they're proving to be effective, according to the Des Moines Police Department.

On November 16th, officers were able to track down a pair of car thieves who tried to speed away from police before crashing into a pole near the intersection of 36th and Center Street.

The car was first pinged by one the department's four squad cars outfitted with special license plate-reading technology. Sergeant Paul Parizek, a spokesperson for the department, says the automated system will alert the officer that the vehicle is stolen.

The cameras are mounted to the top lights of squad cars and automatically scan every license plate that is coming or going. They are looking for stolen cars, warrants, or outstanding parking tickets.

“The automated technology is nice because our officers aren't distracted. They are not trying to run a license plate as they are driving down the road. They can’t do it nearly as fast as the computer can do it,” says Sgt. Parizek.

The technology works in real time. Officials say it wouldn’t work as well if the cameras were mounted in an intersection or on an overpass.

“If we put one on Interstate 235 or some other busy highway, we are  still going to have to have an officer there to go back and follow up on the information the reader pulls.”

The department was not able to release the exact number of stolen cars the license plate readers have helped recover, but expects the readers to be even busier as cooler temperatures approach.

"We haven't seen that rise that we typically see because we've had such unseasonably warm weather, but about the time it starts getting cold people will start going out and warming up their cars, auto thefts go through the roof.”

The cameras cost the department roughly $18,000 for each piece of technology. The Iowa State Patrol and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office do not have the technology.