APD asking for automatic license plate readers

These license plate readers could help officers automatically spot stolen vehicles in traffic.

Austin police is asking the city for a new license plate reader system to better catch criminals.

APD presented its case to the city council Thursday afternoon. The department is asking for $900,000 for a possible five year program with Vigilant Solutions. This automatic license plate recognition system would catch plates on hotlists that include stolen license plates and plates associated with stolen vehicles.

Chief Art Acevedo told the council, this is overdue in Austin.

"This is one of the bigger cities in the country that's still not leveraging a technology that's been available for many many years now and I think consequently we're not being very efficient as a police department," Acevedo said.

The readers would be mounted on patrol vehicles, portable trailers and to stationary roadside structures. They could be used on highways or neighborhood roads.

"This is an investigative tool that is going to be afford us the ability to do a lot more with these resources," Acevedo said.

While they will be used for stolen vehicles, Acevedo said they could also be "leveraged" to help with investigations. He said if there's a string of burglaries in an area, the readers could look for plates associated with known burglars.

Still, he says it will be a big help catching stolen vehicles because that has been a big problem in Austin with more than 2,000 vehicle thefts last year.

"We are in a corridor here where we lose a lot of cars because they're being used for human trafficking and drug trafficking and they're going south," Acevedo said.

Drivers, though, are mixed about the idea.

"It's a little too much power for the police men," driver Mike Martinez said. "There's definite room for abuse of the situation."

"I think it's a great idea, we should utilize technology whenever we can," driver Will Creasman said. "I'm all in favor of locking up every criminal, period."

Council member Don Zimmerman had concerns the program could be used as a tax collector to specifically stop cars linked with city fines. That's similar to what was proposed for the Kyle Police Department, which was rescinded, earlier this year.

Other council members also had issues with the funding, saying the money could be better used to pay officers' overtime. The council decided to postpone the issue until its meeting on June 9.