OGDEN, Utah (ABC 4 News) - Drive a stolen vehicle in Weber County and you may be thirty to fifty times more likely to get caught. For officers, it's the newest crime-fighting tool. For some critics, it's "Big Brother."
Four high-speed, infrared, night-vision cameras, mounted on the roof of a patrol vehicle, take pictures of every license plate on every vehicle that passes. Those pictures are loaded into an on-board computer that searches a data base and alerts the officer of a violation.
All that - in less than one second.
"It's probably thirty times to fifty times faster than the human being," explains Weber County Sheriff’s Detective Chad Allen.
In about an hour, he scanned more than 300 license plates, each one of them processed by the computer and run through the data-base of stolen vehicles, expired, and revoked registrations along with seven other alerts, including suspected terrorist groups. Allen says this one machine does the work of an entire shift of patrol officers and dispatchers.
“Once it runs a plate it's instantaneous,” he says. “It’s within a second. You pretty much know right then if you have a violation."
"Revoked. Alert. Revoked." The laptop computer sends out a “ping” sound and then the voice alert. "Alert. Expired. Alert."
"So that's the Altima,” says Allen as he reviews the data on the screen. “So it does show revoked."
One parking lot - six violations detected in about fifteen minutes.
And then there was this one:
"Bad boys, Bad boys, watcha wanna do? Watcha wanna do when they come for you?” The familiar theme song from the popular police reality TV show plays over the laptop. Then, then voice. “Stolen vehicle!"
Detective Allen immediately called in the license plate number. Three minutes of research by a dispatch operator at the station revealed the Utah plate number on the pick-up truck we were looking at was identical to a Nevada plate on a stolen car. With the exact same plate number had been stolen. The system, only programmed to read Utah plates, couldn't tell the difference.
That's only one thing that bothers critics of this new system. Ogden Standard Examiner Opinion Editor Doug Gibson warned in his op-ed column the technology can be abused.
"We're not saying any cop is dishonest or anything,” he explained, “but in order to meet a quota or perhaps a because of a personal vendetta, something could happen. All we're saying in the editorial is, ‘Be very careful.’"
Detective Allen answers that concern by explaining the scanner only sees what is visible to the officer on the street and that computer gives the officer less information than a dispatch operator at their fingertips.
The Weber County Sheriff's Office is working on getting more federal funding -- $20,000 -- for another one. It’s worth the cost, say law enforcers, for a system they believe will deter vehicle theft in Weber County.