In 18 months, St. George Police Officer Tyrell Bangerter has issued more than 400 tickets to uninsured motorists in the city with the help of the department’s automated license plate recognition system.
Bangerter said he came across the system while researching new technology for motor vehicle enforcement. Police agencies in northern Utah referred the officer to the Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division, who then came to St. George and presented the information and trained officers how to use the system.
Chief Marlon Stratton said the ALPR is a device with both digital and infrared cameras that take photos of license plates as Bangerter patrols in his vehicle. The photos are sent to a computer installed in the car.
“The computer in the back actually translates what it sees into letters and numbers, and it simply checks it against a list,” Bangerter said. “If that plate sequence is anywhere on my lists, it immediately tells me.”
The lists are spreadsheets uploaded to the computer each day of license plates that are flagged for driving with no insurance, driving on a revoked registration, Amber Alerts, felony warrants, stolen vehicles and stolen license plates.
“When you look back in the history of law enforcement, if we were looking for particular vehicles, we had a hot sheet and we’d have sheets and sheets that we’d have to flip through to identify these different vehicles,” Stratton said. “With this technology, this automated license plate reader just simply does what an officer used to have to do, only it does it very quickly, and it will scan the license plate to alert us if there’s a problem with that license plate.”
Sgt. Craig Harding said the ALPR does not gather personal information about an individual who owns the vehicle. In order for an officer to obtain personal information about the driver or the owner of the vehicle, the officer would have to call in to dispatch or run a security check on a driver’s license.
“The only information that’s included on the hit is the year of the vehicle, the make, the model, the color, the state and what database it’s on,” Bangerter said.
Uninsured motorists are the most-common violation, Stratton said, and the database assists the officers in taking a proactive approach to take uninsured motorists off city streets.
“I feel it’s a very important tool for us to be able to identify those out there that are driving with insurance,” Stratton said. “It’s not like, ‘Well, my insurance expired yesterday and so now I show up on the list.’ They’ve been without insurance for quite some time before it will come to our attention through this license plate reader.”
Bangerter said he has pulled one local woman over and impounded her vehicle five times in the past 18 months for driving with no insurance.
“They just refuse to get insurance,” Stratton said.
Harding said the SGPD traffic unit looks for potential causes of car crashes, injuries and property damage by using tools such as the ALPR.
“I believe our citizens want us to be out there being proactive and taking uninsured motorists off the road,” Stratton said. “I bet you every single one of us has someone we know that has been in an accident with someone who has no insurance. It’s a nightmare.”
During a given shift, Bangerter has impounded up to eight vehicles. Harding said the SGPD traffic unit is looking to train other officers to use the ALPR system.
“The only way to increase our ability to take uninsured motorists off the street would be to get another system,” Harding said.
Stratton said his department is considering getting another ALPR system in the future after the “success” of the equipment.
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