Manatee County Sheriff’s Office finding success with license plate cameras

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is cracking down on some serious criminals thanks to a new tool: license plate cameras.

The cameras do the work of a human in a fraction of a second and have closed a number of cases, but the future of the program is hitting some roadblocks.

Along a busy stretch of Cortez Road in Bradenton, a message board is set up to warn drivers to slow down. But, this big contraption holds a little secret. A built in license plate camera scans every single car that passes by and checks it against data bases.

“Any way that we can fight crime and get the bad guys off the street, we’re all in,” said Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dave Bristow.

Since September, the sheriff’s office has used cameras in two message boards and five patrol cars. Thanks to the technology, deputies recovered 22 stolen vehicles, 15 stolen license plates, five wanted suspects and two missing people.

If that’s not enough, within a ten day span, they made three homicide arrests.

The technology is not cheap. Each one of these cameras cost $15,000. The department is trying to figure out a way to afford more.

“It is a little expensive. Now as we get more of these, the price will come down as you buy in bulk, but we’re just not quite prepared to do that right now,” explained Bristow.

There are PR headaches too, as the ACLU argues these cameras are an invasion of privacy. Officials stress the technology is only used to find criminals and some locals don’t seem to mind it.

“I’d rather see them get caught than on the loose,” said one woman.

“I think it’s fantastic. Anything to help catch the bad guys,” said another woman.

The sheriff’s office is very eager to expand this program. They just need to drum up the money to pay for it.

For now, the department will continue to use the cameras in high traffic areas and as summer tourist season ramps up, you can expect that these cameras will be used a lot.

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