Tracking crime by tracking vehicles

February 13, 2008 8:50:02 PM PST
A new way to track crime and protect homeowners in a popular and fast-growing suburb of Houston is getting a test run. It's a pilot program that helps officers spot suspicious vehicles. The same technology used to give you a ticket at some red lights around town is now in place at the Sugar Creek subdivision. Not only does it record license plates, but it notes when a vehicle enters and exits the neighborhood.

In an age where cameras snap pictures of drivers running red lights or traveling unpaid through tolls, similar technology is now being used to help police find criminals guilty of much more serious offenses.

As part of a trial project, cameras for the last month have recorded a photo of every vehicle that enters the Sugar Creek subdivision. Using an optical scan and license plate recognition software -- though it's not 100% accurate -- the system generates an image and license plate number that police can use if necessary to help track that vehicle down.

Sugar Land Police Chief Steve Griffith explained, "If we know that a white truck was involved in some type of crime, we can go back to the system and pull up all the white trucks, look at the license plates over a period of time and try to determine who the suspect vehicle was."

Chief Griffith says he's in talks with at least two Sugar Land subdivision interested in mounting these cameras at the entrances or exits of their neighborhoods.

"We feel like this is an application that will help improve the security of our neighborhoods," he said.

The head of the Sugar Creek homeowner's association likes the idea, but is worried about the cost of purchasing such a system.

Gary Stanford said, "In a perfect world we'd love to have them at all our entrances and exits at a reasonable cost. We'd love to have them."

The police chief says each system would cost a neighborhood $15,000 to $17,000. While many homeowners support the idea of greater security, some see this as an invasion of privacy, even if it is out in the public.

"Basically it's getting more and more like big brother to me," said homeowner Rick Brock. "But you want big brother on your side occasionally, also."

The pilot program runs here for about another month. It will be up to each individual neighborhood to decide if they want to pay for and implement the system.

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