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Police to get plate reader

The Suffolk Police Department has received a $17,000 grant from the state Homeland Security Program for a mobile license plate recognition system.

The system, which consists of a camera that can be mounted on a car and connected to a computer loaded with license plate recognition software, will be used to more quickly detect stolen vehicles and stolen license plates, Suffolk Police Chief Thomas Bennett said Friday.

“It will make us more efficient at recovering stolen vehicles and/or plates,” Bennett said. “It’s always looking at tags that sometimes an officer could have missed or is not quick enough to see. Things that could be missed by humans usually aren’t missed by the equipment if it’s working properly.”

The state Homeland Security Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

A license plate reader program also is being investigated by Treasurer Ron Williams, but Williams said last week he was not sure if the same reader could be used by both departments because of the grant stipulations. Williams would be using the system to track down car tax accounts in default.

Bennett said the system would be updated every day with new vehicles reported stolen. Vehicles that have been recovered would be weeded out.

“It will be updated with the latest information, so we don’t have a month-old stolen auto that was recovered weeks ago,” Bennett said.

The reader would be able to detect tags attached to cars that are either parked or moving, so it can be used in parking lots or driving down the road. A beep would sound to alert the officer when a stolen tag is detected.

Bennett said stolen vehicles and plates are “not a huge problem” in Suffolk, “but we do have stolen vehicles.”

There is no local match required for the grant. The department hopes to acquire the system soon.