LAPD Is Spotting Car Thieves in Blink of a Digital Eye

The Los Angeles Police Department is testing a mobile, computerized camera system that could markedly improve its chances of arresting car thieves at a time when auto theft accounts for nearly a quarter of property crimes. The new system uses tiny digital cameras — either hand-held or mounted on the top of a police car — to scan license plates and compare them to a state database of 123,000 stolen vehicles. The cameras can capture up to 2,000 images an hour on the freeway, in parking lots or on streets. "You drive down the street and it literally pulls up every single car plate and tells you whether it''s stolen," said Det. Bob Graybill, head of the LAPD''s San Fernando Valley-based Community Effort to Combat Auto Theft. "This is going to change everything." Like price scanners in checkout lines at markets, the results are virtually instantaneous, eaning an officer is alerted the moment the system focuses on the plate of a vehicle that has been reported stolen. With infrared capacity, the cameras can be used in the dark. Graybill''s squad is experimenting with two systems: a hand-held British-designed device that works like a radar gun, and a vehicle-mounted unit.