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License plate readers to replace red light camera in communities across Houston area

HOUSTON – Red light cameras may be a thing of the past, but Tuesday night, license plate readers are expanding in communities across the Houston area.

The concept is very similar, but these cameras snap pictures of license plates from all drivers in a certain area. And the Memorial Villages Police Department in west Houston is the most recent department to install the crime-fighting technology.

Since April, the department has been using the new automated surveillance system that has led to the arrest of parole violators, robbery suspects and car thieves.

“Since we’ve gone operational. So far, we’ve recovered 10 stolen cars and one set of stolen license plates so in the short time we’ve been operational we’ve had some very successful results,” said police Chief Ray Schultz.

It’s called an automated license plate reader. ALPRs are essentially cameras that photograph the plates of passing cars then check them through a state database to see if they’re stolen or wanted.

How does the system work?

One case in point, Zachary Wingate, a convicted burglar and robber wanted for a parole violation was stopped in a stolen vehicle carrying weapons, tools and ski masks inside Nov. 1 after police were notified by the plate reader.

“What it’s doing is telling us when bad actors are coming into the community. Usually, folks that are involved in other criminal activities will often use a stolen vehicle or license plate to try to cover themselves,” Schultz said.

How is the system made?

The system is produced by a Georgia company called Flock Safety. It doesn’t record anything except the license plate. The images are stored in the cloud for three days and then deleted.

How many cameras are placed in the city?

Memorial Villages has 14 units in operation and six more planned to go online.

“I think this is just another very valuable tool,” Schultz said.

And other departments are finding it useful too.

Houston, Jersey Village and Sugar Land police departments have similar systems in place, and the West University Place Police Department is currently constructing one.