Beware, drivers: Forty Fort police unveil license plate scanners

By Marcella Kester - For Times Leader | September 8th, 2017 9:56 pm - updated: 11:24 am.

FORTY FORT — If you’re driving through the borough with an expired registration or suspended license, expect to get pulled over.

Forty Forty officials unveiled Friday two police cruisers that were recently equipped with automatic license plate readers. The systems were installed in May, and borough officers have been using the state-of-the-art technology since June. The first system was funded through a Local Share Account grant at a cost of $17,600. The second system was purchased through borough funds, costing $17,000. The scanners have already logged “thousands of hits,” or violations, according to Police Chief Daniel Hunsinger.

Currently, only Forty Fort, Nanticoke and West Hazleton have the technology. And to Hunsinger’s knowledge, Forty Fort is the only community to have two active scanners. As for how the software can help a community, the chief cited the recent case of four boys being kidnapped and murdered in Bucks County.

“It was actually a system like this that tracked the vehicle that the boys were in,” he said. “They actually put the puzzle together as far as location, and were able to apprehend the people that did it through a system like this.”

The readers automatically scan the plate of every nearby vehicle through three cameras mounted on each cruiser.

Besides helping in verifying registration, the machines, which were supplied by Secure 24 Watch in New York, also can tell if a car is insured; belongs to a driver who has a suspended license; or is stolen through an easy-to-use color-coded system. This helps officers immediately gauge a situation. For example, the screen will flash yellow if a scanned plate is expired, blue if a driver is under suspension and red if the vehicle has been reported as stolen. After snapping the photo of the car and plate, the system automatically logs the information into its database with the GPS coordinates of the scan. It also uses a nightvision-like technology, allowing officers to scan plates during all shifts.

Forty Fort officer Anthony Smith allowed the Times Leader to accompany him on a quick ride through the borough to show how the technology works, and it didn’t take long for the system to catch potential offenders.

As soon as Smith pulled out of the borough building and onto River Street, the system automatically began scanning plates. By the time he reached the corner of River Street and Rutter Avenue, it already had a “hit.” Changing the screen from gray to yellow, the scanner indicated to Smith the car which just passed him had an expired registration.

“It’s 97 percent sure it read the plate right and it’s expired,” he said of the information displayed on the screen. “You can’t get through one turn in this town without this going off.”

He was right.

From there, Smith turned right onto Welles Street. Sitting at the light at the intersection of Welles and Wyoming Avenue, the reader let out another alert. This time, the screen flashed blue, indicating the vehicle that passed the cruiser was registered to a driver with a suspended license.

In total, the system completed 271 scans within a 10-minute ride through town, making 12 hits for potentially expired and unlicensed drivers.

Smith explained the database the system uses comes from PennDOT, which updates it once per week. Because of the lag on updates, he said that at certain times, such as the first week of a new month, the reader may be flagging a plate for an expired license, when in reality the driver has already renewed their registration. Because of this, officers will still manually verify if a plate is in violation. He also noted the database only works for vehicles with Pennsylvania plates, and cannot read plates from out-of-state.

“When PennDOT stopped providing stickers on license plates, the only way to know if it was expired, suspended or stolen was if you pulled the car over for another violation,” Chief Hunsinger said.

State Rep. Aaron Kaufer said many towns are interested in purchasing the technology, and are even looking to work together to be able to afford the equipment.

“Every single municipality was talking about what Forty Fort has here, and was wanting to get their own systems in their town,” said the lawmaker.

Hunsinger said the hardest part about the system is being able to afford it. However, if other communities buy the system, Forty Fort will allow them to link into their software database, garnering a savings of around $600. The chief believes the system is worth the price, thanking both Kaufer and state Sen. Lisa Baker for their assistance in helping obtain the equipment.

Forty Fort police officer Anthony Smith explains the new license plate readers installed in one of two police vehicles during a ride through the borough Friday. Fort police officer Anthony Smith explains the new license plate readers installed in one of two police vehicles during a ride through the borough Friday.
This camera that reads license plates is mounted on the roof of a Forty Fort police car. camera that reads license plates is mounted on the roof of a Forty Fort police car.

By Marcella Kester

For Times Leader