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Plattsburgh City Police Patrolman Charlie Scott shows the new license-plate reader mounted on a patrol car. The device reads the license plate of an approaching or parked vehicle. The computer checks the plate with the State Department of Motor Vehicles for vehicle violations.

MALONE -- An on-board camera will soon allow the Malone Police Department to pinpoint drivers with suspended registrations and other violations.

Chief Steve Stone said the license-plate reader mounted inside the police cars scans the license plate of an approaching or parked vehicle.

The computer instantaneously checks the plate against a State Department of Motor Vehicles "hit list" of vehicles in violation of traffic laws, such as a stolen vehicle, revoked license or expired registration.

If it finds a match, the computer sounds an alarm to let the officer know, and further action will be taken.

Similar units are already in operation in State Police cruisers and in patrol cars for Plattsburgh City Police, the Essex County Sheriff's Department and the Lake Placid Police Department.

HIGH ACCURACY RATE

Another feature allows officers to input a license-plate number in an emergency, such as an Amber Alert child-abduction report, said Lake Placid Police Department Chief Scott Monroe.

His agency has used its camera for about a year and has had success getting unlicensed drivers and people with unregistered vehicles to correct their deficiencies.

Monroe said the camera can read plates from other states besides New York.

Each officer must verify the information from a hit to make sure it hasn't been corrected since the computer download was made.

"The screen talks to you," he said, so the police are not distracted while driving, and the program window is minimized while the camera scans plates.

"It beeps so you know a car is read, but if there is a suspended registration, it pings and dings, and a window opens, and it shows a copy of the image it took of the plate," the chief said.

"If the camera gets confused and it can't tell if what it sees is an 8 or a B, it gives both scenarios and all possible combinations.

"It has a 95-percent (accuracy) rating, so it picks out cars very well," Monroe said.

TRACKING TICKETS

Quarterly reports are made to the Department of Criminal Justice Services to track the operations.

According to Sgt. Carol Hayes, who is in charge of the license-plate reader program in Lake Placid, the first five days it was operational, the camera read 13,000 plates.

It resulted in 18 hits and 17 tickets being issued for aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.

There was also a hit on a set of stolen license plates, which netted the person a misdemeanor ticket for possession of stolen property, she said.

From July to September 2007, about 184,000 plates were read, resulting in 32 tickets for a suspended or revoked registration.

From October to December, another 64,000 plates were viewed by the camera, with 95 hits and 14 summons issued.

NO TICKET SOMETIMES

Hayes said a lot of the hits that didn't result in tickets were for insurance lapses due to drivers changing insurance carriers without notifying the company.

The insurance companies report the drivers as uninsured, and the record remains that way until the person's new insurance coverage is verified by an officer.

The quarterly report for January to March 2008 shows that 48,000 plates were read, 63 hits were made and nine misdemeanor tickets were issued.

"Snow plays a part," Hayes said, in the camera making a false hit because its view may be blocked by snow buildup.

Another instance of higher-hits-than-usual ticket results could be parked vehicles in violation.

"We don't sit on parked vehicles and wait," she said. "If the driver takes it out on the road and we get a hit, we will, but we don't sit on parked vehicles."

SAFETY CITED

Hayes said investment in the camera system has been worth it to the safety and welfare of the community.

"With a suspended driver or registration, it is worth it to get them off the road. God forbid, no one wants to have an accident; but (especially) no one wants to have an accident with someone with no insurance."

A grant from the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police will pay for a majority of the $23,000 unit Malone wants to buy and the software to operate it.

"The only thing we'd have to buy is the heavy-duty laptop that goes with it and pay $800 for maintenance after the third year," said Chief Stone.

draymo@pressrepublican.com

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