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Police using new technology to help combat crime

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- The Johnstown Police Department was showing off a new piece of equipment Monday that's meant to help identify wanted vehicles and those associated with crime. It's called an automated license plate reader, and it was purchased with the help of several city business leaders.

On a typical shift, Johnstown police say they manually input about 40 license plates into a state database to check for violations. This new machine will take that chore away, not only checking about 30 times as many, but giving police more time to patrol the streets and take care of potential problems before they happen.

"I'm reading an average of 1,300 cars in an eight-hour shift," said patrolman Erin Kabler.

Mounted to the top of a cruiser are four cameras that are scanning the streets of Johnstown, both in color and the infrared spectrum.

"It takes every license plate that we come by and runs that license plate through a known database of possible offenders or cars of interest," said Kabler.

It alerts police to cars with expired and suspended registrations, missing or wanted persons, Amber Alerts and stolen vehicles, to name a few.

"Each camera will do hundreds, and I mean hundreds per minute," said Kabler. "The speed doesn't matter. It has a 160 mph speed on it, so any cars going past me, I'll be able to capture that license plate."

It's one of only a few license plate readers throughout the state, mainly because it comes with a hefty price tag -- $20,000. But Johnstown's new ALPR was purchased with a donation from city businesses, including
JWF Industries, Concurrent Technologies Corp., Employers Medical Access Partnership, 1st Summit Bank, Laurel Holdings, Ameriserv and an anonymous donation through the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies.

"The crime in our area is a community initiative that needs to be addressed by everyone in the community," said Jack Babich, of Employers Medical Access Partnership.

"They have been extremely active and very supportive, and when we brought this process to the table, they were energetic about contributing and making sure that this project came to fruition," said Johnstown City Manager Kristen Denne.

After an only 10-minute ride-along demonstration, the device read more than 150 license plates, detecting at least 10 with violations.

"I think not only is it going to make the officers' jobs easier, but I also think it's going to make the officers' job so much safer," said Babich. "They'll be able to tell in advance what the issues are that they are dealing with."

The device was put into service last Thursday and is already credited with one drug arrest. Police said the machine alerted them to a car with violations, and when they pulled it over, they found heroin inside.

The city only has one machine but hopes that with help from the community, it can purchase another in the near future.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times