HOUSTON- Police are looking to beef up security in some upscale neighborhoods in west Houston.
They want to install a “virtual gate” made up of license plate reader cameras around Hunters Creek Village, Piney Point Village, and Bunker Hill Village.
The technology stores information about all license plates it sees, along with dates and times. It also alerts police if a vehicle has been reported stolen or is involved in emergencies like amber or silver alerts.
“There are only 27 ways in and out of the villages,” said Asst. Chief Ray Schultz of the Memorial Villages Police Department. “We import 99% of all our criminals. That means criminals come from somewhere else to commit crimes here. We know that almost every time criminals come in the villages, they come in via a motor vehicle.”
The City of Sugar Land has had license plate readers operating since 2015.
In the first six months of 2016, police say the system helped them find 38 stolen cars and make 37 arrests. Offenders included robbery, home invasion, and animal abuse suspects.
In that same period of time, the Sugar Land cameras stored information on more than 41 million license plates.
Due to privacy concerns, many police departments have safeguards in place to ensure the information is only used for investigative purposes.
The Memorial Villages Police Department plans to dump video after 24 hours and license plate reader data after 30 days. Officials also want to have a strong audit system to keep track of who is accessing the information at all times.
“It’s not a red light camera. It’s not speed enforcement. It’s not going to be telling us when someone drives through the villages with a warrant for their arrest or didn’t pay a speeding ticket. That’s not the purpose of this,” said Schultz. “We have an opportunity to use technology to track who is coming in and out. When a crime occurs, use this tool strictly as an event-driven reactive tool to help us solve the crime.”
The Memorial Villages Police Department held its first public meeting about the license plate readers Tuesday. Before moving forward, the department is conducting a study, which is expected to be done this summer.
If approved, the project would cost between $2.2-3.4 million.
Installation on the infrastructure would not begin until the fall.