Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming estimates he would have to add 10 to 15 officers per shift if his department were to respond every time the island’s new license plate-recognition cameras produce a “hit.”
On a given shift, three or four officers are on duty.
And, in the seven weeks since the camera system went live, the cameras have produced nearly 5,000 hits — which means that state-and-federal crime databases notified police that the registered owner of a vehicle had an arrest warrant, suspended or expired driver’s license or expired tag, or that the tag came from a stolen vehicle.
The cameras went into operation Aug. 9, and, in August alone, police made nearly double the number of traffic stops they made in July.
“We definitely prioritize numerous times on a shift,” said Cumming, who estimates that officers are currently initiating traffic stops for approximately 10% of hits.
Typically, between 10% and 15% of hits are misreads. The scanner might mistake an “I” for a “1,” for example. Dispatchers verify the data so that officers don’t make stops based on erroneous data.
When the cameras generate multiple hits within a short timeframe, dispatchers and supervisors often have to determine which violation is most serious. Frequently, officers who are on a traffic stop are called off of that call to deal with a more serious violation license cameras have flagged.
Approximately 80% of the traffic stops officers initiate based on license-camera alerts are related to criminal violations, according to Cumming. Of license camera-generated stops, approximately 20% result in citations.
A total of six cameras are located on town-owned property on the New Pass Bridge and Longboat Pass Bridge.
Cameras capture license-plate data, but not images of cars or drivers. The images are stored for a year on a secure server, but police don’t see them unless they become part of an investigation.
Since the cameras began capturing data, they’ve identified at least two stolen vehicles and have assisted in other criminal investigations, including a domestic-violence case in which they helped police to confirm the suspect was on the island at the time a woman said she had been victimized.
Cumming believes that other data, such as traffic counts, could be useful to Florida Department of Transportation and other agencies. Data has revealed that approximately 13,000 vehicles are currently crossing onto the Key daily.
“The total volume of vehicles is being captured by the hour, so it shows us how much traffic is on the island,” Cumming said. “It shows us trends and the fluctuation of people on the island.”