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New system helps PO police recover stolen cars

The Port Orchard Police Department will soon acquire a system that will scan all license plates and immediately flag a stolen car.

“This new technology will help us to fight crime,” said Sgt. Jason Glantz, a 13-year veteran of the force who is supervising the project.

The system attaches to a police cruiser on either side of the light bar. It scans all the license plates in its proximity, and sounds an alert when it detects a stolen car or plate.

The system operates in a stationary position, where the car is parked at the side of the road, or while driving. For instance, it can drive down Bay Street and scan all cars that are in motion or parked by the side of the road.

Additionally, it operates under all lighting conditions.

“This,” said Port Orchard Police Chief Al Townsend, “is really cool.”

The system taps into a local database that receives regular updates from national sources. Officers also have the ability to enter new information about stolen cars as the crimes occur.

Once the alert is received the officer must independently verify the information before taking action. For instance, a plate number could be flagged in Washington, but the actual stolen car could be from another state.

The only expense for the POPD will be operation of the vehicle, as the $30,805 equipment cost comes from a grant from the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority (WATPA), and the training will be provided by the equipment vendor.

Glantz, who submitted the grant, said he will now compare the different systems on the market and select the system that is most appropriate for Port Orchard.

Glantz said the system could be in operation by the summer, and its use would probably be rotated between officers. If it proves to be successful the department will seek to equip additional cars with the new technology.

The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department received a grant to purchase a similar system, but due to increased costs and other issues, has not acquired one yet, according to Deputy Scott Wilson. Bremerton also has a system installed. WATPA Executive Director Jim LaMunyon said that it is more effective to fund adjacent communities “because they have the ability to work together.”

LaMunyon said that his agency has awarded equipment grants for 44 communities statewide, although not all the machines are in service. He said that Kitsap County has neither the highest nor the lowest occurrence of stolen cars, reporting 107 such instances in 2009. This compares to 1,664 for King County and 762 for Pierce County.

According to LaMunyon, car thieves often live and “work” in the same community. While detection systems can as a deterrent, car thieves are often involved in other criminal activity.

Car thefts have decreased recently, but can be attributed to the stiffening of sentences and a lowered tolerance for the crime, according to LaMunyon.

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