Longboat Key police had a busy weekend — but not because of rowdy beachgoers, burglaries or car crashes.
If you noticed more patrol-vehicle lights than usual activated along Gulf of Mexico Drive, it’s because the long-awaited license-plate recognition cameras on each end of the island began snapping Friday afternoon.
Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming said that on Sunday alone, data captured on the camera produced approximately 20 hits for issues such as suspended and expired driver’s licenses, warrants and alerts that sex offenders were traveling onto the island.
“Primarily, we’re getting traffic-related crimes,” said Cumming, who estimates that on a typical Sunday in August, officers would have pulled over a half-dozen drivers for similar offences.
Contractor L3 Communications installed a total of six cameras in June on both ends of the island. Now that they’re operational, the cameras capture data from license plates — but not images of cars or drivers — to run them through state and federal databases.
Police say no one will ever see the vast majority of data. But officers will be notified if the registered vehicle owner has a warrant, is involved with a missing-person case, has an expired tag or suspended/expired license or if they’re driving a vehicle that’s listed as stolen.
Police will also receive alerts if a sex offender drives onto the island, although officers wouldn’t pull over a driver solely because he or she is a sex offender. That information would be stored to use for investigative purposes if a sex offense were to occur on the island.
The department is currently discussing policies and protocols with other jurisdictions that have license-plate cameras.
“Right now, we’re responding to every hit we can, but we’re not writing citations for all of them,” Cumming said. “We’re kind of broad brushing it until we hone our policies.”
The cameras went down a long road before they were finally placed at both entrances to the island.
After the late Police Chief Al Hogle proposed the idea to the Longboat Key Town Commission in early 2010, the cameras spent three years enmeshed in bureaucratic red tape.
Police had to find locations that weren’t in Florida Department of Transportation rights of way and that weren’t on Florida Power & Light Co. poles. The cameras are now located on town property on the Longboat Key sides of the New Pass Bridge and Longboat Pass Bridge.
The camera system uses optical character recognition to read license plates on vehicles and take a picture of the license plate. That information is then run through current crime databases.
Longboat Key police maintain the database, which stores images that are captured for one year and makes the information available only for criminal investigations.
The department used forfeiture funds to pay the $79,000 cost of the cameras.
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