When red light cameras were installed inside the city limits of Milton, there were drivers who expressed displeasure at being recorded and identified by an electronic device. A simple trip around town could result in a traffic citation without ever seeing a police car on the road.
Now there is a tool for police now that makes finding violators in traffic easier than ever. The Milton City Council approved $4,555 for a new laptop capable of powering an automated license plate reader. The approved amount includes an extended warranty for the device, in case of malfunction.
Police Chief Greg Brand says the automatic license plate reader is made up of three small cameras located on top of a patrol car. It is attached to a computer to scan and record real-time images. The device alerts the operating officer when a license plate violation is spotted, based on a database linked to a statewide computer system.
"You drive around and whatever that camera sees, it records it," said Police Chief Gregory Brand. "If you had a car registered to you and you have warrants, then we'll see it."
The device sounds an audible alert and will show a photo of the violation, according to Brand. There is very little delay in streaming real-time video.
"It's fast," Brand said. "If I could drive down the Wal-mart parking lot at 60 mph, it would pick up every license plate."
The department has one patrol vehicle in service scanning the streets.
"There's one officer that predominately uses the truck with the computer," Brand said. "My motorcycle guy. When the weather goes crazy, then he goes in the truck."
Brand said the computer downloads new data, three times a day, from the Florida Crime Information Center (FCIC). Other data is programmed into the unit such as warrants, outstanding traffic violations like suspended licenses—and sexual predator information.
The device isn't new to the City, though after three years of service, the laptop began to slow and went out of service recently due to the amount of streaming data it handles.
"We were just starting to get some problematic issues with that unit," Milton Captain David Cox said. "What it is---it pushes so much video graphics, I had to spec it out a little more."
While Cox said he has not seen a rise in stolen vehicles in the area, there has been an increase further south in the state. Some municipalities have purchased stationery automated license plate readers to keep track of stolen cars.
Brand discussed with the city's Information Technology director, John Colby, who recommended a $2,700 Lenovo laptop that could handle the data. He also recommended $1,855 to extend the warranty that covers the hardware.
According to Brand, the plate reader is worth $25,000. The extended warranty covers the device in case of failure, which could be costly to the city if the components failed. This is the fourth---and final---year the manufacturer will offer an extended warranty.
The processor is valued at $10,000, one of the three cameras at $4,500 and field support to actually repair and maintain the device would be billed at $1,250 a day.