Crimewatch: License plate readers helping locate stolen vehicles and solve crime

You walk out to the parking lot and your car is gone. Your chances of getting it back, have now drastically improved.

The Travis County Sheriff's Office has a new tool that tracks stolen vehicles, but is also proving helpful for solving cases including murder.

That is the sound of a stolen vehicle. In this case, it's the FOX 7 News unit--marked just for demonstration.

Several times a month Deputy Brian Turner hears the alert thanks to three license plate scanners mounted to the top of his patrol vehicle.

"From 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. I'll scan anywhere from 2-4,000 license plates," said Turner. "My highest has been 5,400 in one night."

The system continuously snaps images of plates while in motion and parked--checking them against a crime database. Turner simply goes about his normal job responding to calls.

Turner used to have to manually type in plates.

"I would be busy driving, watching for other people on the road, as well as typing at the same time which as we all know is a distraction in the car. With this equipment, it allows us not to even worry about typing other than reading," said Turner. "Deputies will tell you they run license plates every day and once a month they may come up with one stolen vehicle versus in a 6 to 8 month period I've recovered almost 30 of them."

In total, since getting the system last October, the sheriff's office has recovered 157 vehicles in Travis County. The total value of the recoveries $942 thousand dollars.

The sheriff's office has helped locate 476 stolen vehicles for other agencies. That total value is 2.72 million.

The license plate readers also alert officers to missing persons, sex offenders, wanted suspects and are used to assist investigators after a crime is committed.

Last November, the system helped deputies identify two suspects involved in a shooting in Manor. Jesus Aguilar was arrested. Deputies are still looking for Delvin Santiago.

Earlier this month deputies helped Houston police locate two robbers who struck an off duty deputy constable with a plumber's wrench.

Austin police are now looking to invest in the same type of system.

Sgt. Stephen Fleming says the department is looking to purchase a dozen units. They will put them on patrol vehicles and will also place the cameras in fixed locations.

"Either portable locations where we have a hot spot of crime occurring we may be able to deploy a camera into that area where we don't have to actually park a vehicle that has the system on it in the area, we can park a trailer maybe," said Fleming.

APD is hoping to have the same success as Travis County.

"It feels great to have people get their property back to them. You know, because it normally ends up in a chop shop, or across the border or being involved in other crimes that affect numerous families as well," said Turner.

The data collected by the Travis County Sheriff's Office is stored for two years. At that time it will be purged.

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