By Rich Pollack
Plans to sprinkle license plate recognition cameras throughout the barrier island, derailed more than a year ago when the state refused to allow them on its rights of way, are getting new life thanks to advanced technology.
Now leaders of police departments in Delray Beach, Highland Beach and Ocean Ridge say they are close to bringing proposals for installation of systems — that can read license plates from as far away as 130 feet from a road’s center — to their respective city or town commissions for approval.
Delray Beach police Capt. Tom Mitchell said he and representatives from other departments have been looking into alternative solutions to installing cameras on State Road A1A and bridges ever since the fall of 2014 when Florida Department of Transportation officials banned the cameras from state rights of way.
During a recent national police chiefs conference, Highland Beach Police Chief Craig Hartmann and Delray Beach Police Chief Jeff Goldman discovered a company, L-3 Mobile Vision, that offers cameras able to read tags from beyond the state rights of way.
Mitchell arranged for company representatives to come down recently to test the cameras.
“They worked,” he said.
License plate recognition systems scan tags of passing cars and compare that information to tag numbers in law enforcement databases. If the system spots a tag registered to a stolen vehicle, for example, an alert is sent to a dispatcher who verifies the information and then notifies officers on patrol.
“It’s like having someone standing on the side of the road writing down tag numbers all the time,” said Ocean Ridge Police Chief Hal Hutchins.
Mitchell said he is tying up loose ends and hopes to bring a proposal for installation of the system to the City Commission within a couple of months.
If they’re approved, Delray Beach would install cameras in five locations along the barrier island, including the intersections of A1A at both Atlantic Avenue and Linton Boulevard. Four of the five planned sites, Mitchell said, are on city-owned property.
He estimates the cost at between $150,000 and $200,000 and said money already has been budgeted for the project.
Hartmann said the Highland Beach department would share the cost of cameras at Linton Boulevard with Delray and share costs of a server to house the back end of the system. Highland Beach also would place a camera at the south end of the town.
In Ocean Ridge, Hutchins said he plans to update town commissioners on the status of his research into license plate recognition cameras at a workshop meeting this month and seek a green light to continue moving forward.
If commissioners approve, Ocean Ridge could have cameras at the northern and southern entrances to the town as well as at the intersections of A1A and both Woolbright Road and Ocean Avenue. Ocean Ridge would also house a server.
Currently Manalapan has cameras just north of the Boynton Inlet, grandfathered in by the DOT.
Law enforcement officials say that placing cameras at key intersections — and getting the word out that they’re in use — can not only help in crime prevention but also in solving crimes. The cameras could, for example, help in investigations of thefts of unlocked cars that have plagued barrier island communities recently, by helping police track vehicles used in the crimes.
“The bottom line is that these cameras are an investigative tool,” Hutchins said.
Mitchell says the systems can also serve to deter criminals.
“We want everyone to know we have cameras,” he said.
By Rich Pollack