For an agency of around 200 sworn, the staff of the Coral Springs Police Department certainly knows how to leverage available technology to make its officers more efficient and effective. One such technology is license plate recognition (LPR). Coral Springs owns one mobile LPR system and three LPR-equipped trailers, in addition to subscribing to a nationwide commercial LPR database from Vigilant Solutions.
Purchased in 2013, the mobile system is used for proactive patrol operations to generate instant alerts for officers in the field. Officers are automatically alerted when they scan a plate that is a match against a number of hot-lists, including the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) hotlist. This improves situational awareness and officer safety, while also allowing them to locate more vehicles of interest than any officer could humanly accomplish. LPR cameras are not looking for people or any specific type of car–they are merely reading all plates in the vicinity and determining if any have been flagged on the hotlists. The data collected is anonymous in nature, only showing the alphanumerics of the plate, along with a date, time, and location.
The trailer systems are a more recent addition to Coral Springs’ LPR program. Purchasing the first trailer system in April and another two in June, these systems provide fixed location LPR capabilities for alerting dispatch as well as officers in the field. The systems are easily moved from one location to another for special operations and events, and for focused enforcement efforts. As of August 2015, the trailers have scanned 772,165 plates resulting in 21,651 hits or plates of interest.
In addition to the over 21,000 hits generated by Coral Springs’ own LPR systems, Coral Springs has also experienced great success with Vigilant’s commercial LPR data network, formerly known as the National Vehicle Location Service (NVLS). The Vigilant commercial LPR data network takes copies of LPR detections made by Vigilant’s sister operation, Digital Recognition Network, and makes this data available for law enforcement investigative use. These LPR detections, amounting to over 8,500,000 LPR scans per month in Florida alone, are made by DRN affiliates in their efforts to identify vehicles with active orders for repossession. The data from DRN, referred to as commercial data, is available to law enforcement via Vigilant Solutions’ LEARN software. However, law enforcement LPR scans are never made available to DRN, its affiliates, or any other entity aside from law enforcement agencies with which the agency chooses to share. The City of Coral Springs currently chooses to share its data with several other Vigilant agencies in the state, including Citrus County, Collier County, Coral Gables, Ft. Lauderdale, Gainesville, Golden Beach, Hillsborough County, Hollywood, Indian Creek, Lee County, Miami Beach, Miami Dade, Miami, Naples, Orange County, Palm Beach County, Polk County, Pensacola, Sunny Isles Beach, Bay Harbor Islands, and others.
The commercial LPR data was credited with saving a woman’s life in July 2011, long before Coral Springs ever invested in the Vigilant mobile or trailer systems.
Coral Springs Detective Dan Cucchi reports, “On July 13, 2011, an 84-year-old resident contacted us to report her 49-year-old daughter missing. There had been a recent death in the family, and after her daughter failed to answer her cell phone for more than a week, the mother became very concerned for her daughter’s well-being.”
He continued, “We immediately logged into our Vigilant Solutions’ account and searched historical LPR data for the daughter’s vehicle.
We found three sightings of the daughter’s vehicle in just the prior month, captured by Vigilant license plate readers (LPR) deployed on commercial vehicles and shared with law enforcement, and all three were at the same address in Boca Raton. We immediately drove to the location and located the daughter’s vehicle. After making contact with the property management, we were able to locate the daughter’s apartment. We knocked, but there was no answer. Concerned for the woman’s safety, and with a key provided by property management, we attempted to enter the apartment. Unfortunately the door was latched from the inside. Our detective called out for the woman and heard a soft moan, at which point–with assistance from property management–we made entry into the apartment.”
Cucchi adds, “The woman was found on the floor, sick, severely dehydrated, and unable to care for herself. Emergency personnel responded and stated that the woman had been without food or water for several days. Her condition was critical, and she was very near death. Clearly, the information provided from Vigilant saved this woman’s life.”
Another more recent case this year involves the use of commercial LPR data to assist in a hit-and-run case. Coral Springs Officer Rich Best explains, “We received a phone call from someone who had just observed a woman crash into his parked car. The woman stopped, and the two had a very brief conversation until he insisted on calling the police. She then quickly fled the scene and drove over a median in the process. I arrived on the scene approximately ten minutes after receiving the initial dispatch call. The victim was able to quickly snap a photo of the back of her vehicle with his cell phone. It was easy for me to see from the photo that the vehicle was a silver Audi A6 and had a Texas license plate attached. A records check determined the Texas tag was expired, assigned to a Honda, and registered out of New York to another individual. Based on this information, it was my belief that the investigation could possibly go unsolved due to a variety of issues and challenges the traffic investigator would face. Unfortunately and as a result, it was also likely that the victim or his insurance company would have to incur the loss.”
Officer Best continues, “I decided to give the LEARN database a shot and was pleasantly surprised to see the Texas license plate had been scanned on multiple occasions over the past four months in a nearby apartment complex. I verified the images and confirmed it was the same vehicle and same tag. Because of this data, we were able to locate the vehicle at the apartment complex within one hour of my arriving at the crash location. After speaking with neighbors in three different buildings, the investigation led to locating and identifying the driver of the vehicle, who was hiding in a rear bedroom of one of the apartments. The same driver ultimately ended up providing a confession to her actions and was subsequently arrested and charged with several crimes (leaving the scene of a crash resulting in property damage, using a tag not assigned to her vehicle, driving with an expired driver’s license, and not having any proof of insurance). Additionally, the victim ended up positively identifying the person as the driver of the vehicle.”
Officer Best went on to say “The Vigilant system and the data available are a tremendous resource and have proven to be helpful in solving crimes that could possibly go unsolved or take greater lengths and time to solve. I am a firm believer in the power of the system. It solves crimes and saves lives.”