Alexandria planning to expand license plate reader program aimed at identifying stolen cars

City leaders in Alexandria, Virginia, are planning to expand a program that uses license plate readers to detect stolen cars, among other things.

At an Alexandria City Council meeting this week, Police Chief Don Hayes said the pilot program has been so successful in six months that the city is going to increase the number of plate readers on local roads.

The six devices in place as part of the pilot program, Hayes said, averaged 220 plate hits per month, and helped police close 14 cases, make 33 arrests/warrants and recover over $240,000 in property.

Now, the city is planning to deploy 12 more readers, particularly on corridors used to enter Alexandria, Hayes said. He didn’t offer a timeline for when the additional plate readers would be in place.

“We recovered some of those stolen autos, and in some of those stolen autos, there were stolen guns,” Hayes told the Council. “Or, they were just guns that people were probably going to use in a crime. So, we are finding connection with the stolen autos with people who are committing the crimes.”

Calling the use of the license plate readers a “game changer,” Hayes said when a car enters Alexandria and passes the camera, a notification is automatically sent to alert police that a stolen car has just come into their jurisdiction. Officers then find out where the car is, pull it over and make an arrest.

“It’s already proven that it’s worth it,” Hayes said.

The conversation about the license plate reader program came during a broader discussion Tuesday about crime across the city. City leaders detailed crime trends, prevention efforts and infrastructure in place to keep students safe and in school.

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson asked Hayes whether the public has been told about the plate reader program, “because I know … this is the balance of crime with people’s everyday freedom of not having Big Brother watching them.”

Now, Hayes said, “we’re finding out that the data is working,” so the city will provide the public with an update on its efforts.

“The goal of this is that, at some point, when a car gets reported stolen, it’s going to be impossible to get that car very far without being seen by all these cameras,” Council member R. Kirk McPike said. “It’s fantastic.”

The system, McPike said, has a database of license plates that have been reported as stolen or present at a crime scene. So, “if you’re someone whose car hasn’t been stolen, hasn’t been reported at the scene of a crime, it doesn’t pay any attention to the fact you’re there. So there’s no concern the public should have about privacy or monitoring of travel,” he said.

Other local jurisdictions have similar technology, Hayes said, so there’s one big local network.

“We know when the car was stolen in Fairfax, it’ll still hit in Alexandria,” Hayes said.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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