Longboat Key police say they have arrested a man who confessed to breaking into condo storage areas and stealing bicycles throughout the Key and Holmes Beach. And the license-plate recognition camera system installed nearly a year ago helped police make that arrest.
On June 24, Longboat Key Detective Sgt. Robert Bourque arrested 25-year-old Daniel Lee Upton, of Bradenton, who confessed to breaking into the sheds, stealing bicycles and selling them at Manatee and Sarasota pawn shops.
During his investigation, Bourque identified a vehicle that Upton allegedly drove on and off the Key. Using camera data, Bourque verified dates and times Upton was on the island, which “proved to be a deciding factor during the interrogation, leading to a full confession,” according to a Longboat Key police news release.
Bourque distributed the information to law enforcement agencies in both counties, leading authorities to clear dozens of cases. Police say numerous bicycles have been recovered and will be returned to their owners. Police agencies in the area expect to recover additional bicycles.
At press time, Upton remained in Manatee County Jail on multiple charges. The news release describes him as “a convicted felon with an extensive criminal history of violent offenses, including armed robbery and theft-related convictions.” Police expect additional charges will follow.
Police will never use camera data as the sole investigative tool to build a case, according to Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming, however, the bicycle case shows how the data can add valuable evidence to a case.
“For investigative purposes, this kind of data is important to put this person on the island,” Cumming said.
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.
Police have primarily used camera data to make traffic stops, mostly for suspended licenses and expired licenses and tags. But police have also touted the value of the system in criminal investigations. During the first two months in which the cameras operated, the data they captured were used to identify two stolen vehicles and assist in a domestic violence case in which they helped police confirm that a suspect was on the island at the time a woman said she had been victimized.
During the first six months of 2014, the cameras produced “hits” or alerts on 45,218 license plates that crossed under the cameras at both ends of the island — an average of 7,531 hits per month or 251 hits during a 24-hour period.
Still, the volume of hits the cameras produce requires police to prioritize. Cumming estimates officers are dispatched to approximately six hits per hour.
But Cumming believes the cameras have value beyond the information they provide because they serve as a deterrent.
“We’re starting to hear rumblings that people know they’re out here, so we’re not getting as much serious stuff. That means they’re doing their job,” Cumming said.
From Jan. 1 through June 30, the town’s license-plate recognition cameras captured the following:
45,218 — “Hits” or alerts on license plates crossing under the cameras at both ends of the island;
18,057 — Suspended drivers licenses;
12,225 — Expired license plates;
9,496 — Expired driver’s licenses;
4,555 — Alerts related to state and national informational notifications;
885 — Registered sexual offenders/predators
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