Champaign police want to extend use of license plate readers

Nov. 11—Good idea or not? Let us know with a Letter to the Editor

CHAMPAIGN — Champaign police are attributing more than 100 positive outcomes in 15 months to the use of automated license plate readers across the city.

Now, police officials will be asking the city council Tuesday to extend the use of this technology through a new five-year contract with automated license plate reader company Flock Group.

Police will also be asking the council to approve a new public safety camera system program to be developed in-house to cover 18 major intersections in all four directions at a lower cost than covering each intersection with four license plate readers.

Police use automated license plate readers to identify license plate numbers for such things as stolen vehicles, wanted suspects, missing persons and AMBER alerts, according to Deputy Police Chief Kevin Olmstead.

"The city of Champaign's pilot ALPR program has served as a valuable investigative resource and resulted in positive outcomes that have contributed to decrease in crime and increase in the community's overall safety," he said in a memo to the council.

"As the city council considers how to move forward from the pilot phase of this initiative, police administration has identified locations where additional ALPRs could be utilized to improve the program's coverage and locations where a public safety camera program could be a valuable public safety resource," he said.

In the first 15 months the city's 46 automated license plate readers were in use, they yielded such outcomes as arrests, recovered property and leads in investigations for five homicides, five sexual assault cases, two kidnapping cases, six investigations into aggravated or reckless discharges of weapons, four robbery investigations, four arson investigations, three unlawful use of weapons investigations, three missing persons or welfare check investigations, 38 motor vehicle thefts and other crimes, according to Olmstead.

Under the current contract with Flock, the city is paying $2,500 per ALPR unit — a price the company plans to raise to $3,000 per unit unless the city signs a new five-year contract by the end of the year.

Locking in the current price would save $115,000 over the five years, Olmstead said.

The public safety camera units police are proposing would provide both a video feed and automated license plate reader capabilities. Since the Flock automated license plate readers used by the city are single-direction units, one public safety camera unit would eliminate the need for four automated license plate readers at a single intersection, Olmstead said.

The camera units would be placed at areas where there are currently automated license plate readers, and those single-direction readers would be relocated to other areas of the city to expand coverage, he said.

A map of proposed locations for public safety camera units largely includes locations on Mattis Avenue, Prospect Avenue, Neil Street and South First Street.

Excluding a one-time installation cost, the city would spend $18,500 on a single public safety camera unit over seven years, versus $75,000 for full Flock automated license plate reader coverage with four units at the same intersection, Olmstead said.

Should the council be interested in additional coverage, he said, police administrators have identified 16 other automated license plate reader locations that would be beneficial, boosting the total number of these units to 62.

Now for the cost of all of this:

According to Olmstead's memo, a five-year renewal with Flock and implementation of the public safety camera program would involve $233,500 in one-time costs and $241,890 in annual recurring costs.

Those figures include the continued leasing of 46 current automated license plate readers, plus 16 additional units, plus a recommended four flex units that could be quickly placed by police in any location as needed on a temporary basis, 18 public safety camera units and the cost of squad car automated license plate reader integration.