Uninsured and unregistered motorists beware – South Shore police have a new way to search you out.
Hingham, as well as Quincy, Randolph, and Plymouth, recently received the “Parking Camera,” a three-camera device mounted on the trunk of a police cruiser that is able to capture every license plate within readable distance.
It’s a $20,000 update on the old method of manually running license plates, and is a tool that enables officers to scan cars in traffic, in parking lots, on the sides of streets, and even while driving, searching out wanted persons, unregistered drivers, even Amber Alert suspects.
The communities were four of 20 to recently obtained the technology through a grant from the state's Office of Public Safety, where 200 municipalities applied for the technology.
So far, the results have proven worth the lengthy application process and subsequent yearlong wait, police said.
“There have been 12 motor vehicles… seized since June 20 as a direct result of the meter,” said Sergeant David Jones with the Hingham Police Department. “It’s above and beyond what we normally get, and it’s a significant jump. More than we thought we’d get with it.”
Jones, who wrote the winning grant proposal for Hingham to obtain its one device, said the community was given the money because of the large assortment of major routes that run through the town.
“In Hingham we have 3A, 228, 53, Route 3, and the commuter rail, the commuter boat, and MBTA busses. We have a lot of vehicular and commuter parking areas that the unit could be used in,” Jones said. “We had what the state was looking for in who to award [this grant] to.”
The three-camera unit has two cameras that face forward on both the driver and passenger sides and a camera facing directly to the right to capture any inward-facing parked cars on the street.
“With the three cameras, you get pretty good coverage of what’s around you,” Jones said.
Although it’s designed mainly for driving through a parking lot, the device can also be utilized with other cars that are in motion, referencing the plate numbers against a daily-downloaded database of delinquent license plates.
According to Jones, a variety of things might happen to cause a license plate to show up on the database, including a stolen vehicle notification, a warrant, a wanted person, a probation or parole violation, or a registration revocation.
An alarm sounds when a flagged plate is located, allowing the officer to issue a violation at the site.
Moreover, the license plate numbers aren’t thrown out once they are read. They are stored in a database for 90 days with the time and GPS location also recorded. That allows any police officer to enter in a license plate number to retrieve exactly when and where a specific license was seen within the last 90 days.
The technology also works at nighttime, Jones said, as the device captures an infrared photo and a color photo of every license plate it reads.
“I’ve studied this piece of technology and it is extremely useful for police work,” said Lieutenant Bob Gillan with the Quincy Police Department. “I’ve seen it at work, it’s amazing.”
Quincy’s department has already received one device they are still working out the kinks on. The department expects to get two more in the next few months.
“We’re very confident that this technology will help us protect our citizens,” Gillan said. “It is literally reading every plate within visual distance, and running it to make sure they are licensed, have insurance, there are no equipment violations noted. It’s what a police officer does in traffic, but this helps do it faster.”
Cities such as Malden and Everett, which have had the technology for some time, have seen large jumps in the number of captured insurance violators, Gillan said. Quincy officers are hoping for the same results.
As for privacy concerns, Jones said majority of people aren’t worried that this new database of cars and locations exists.
“The people we’ve come in contact with it have been very supportive of it. It's just making the roads that much safer,” Jones said. “We just hope it turns to a reduction of accidents because uninsured motor vehicles [are being taken off the road].”