BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Police describe license plate readers as a critical tool. It is one of many used to track stolen cars and missing persons.
"It can be very helpful. We've made lots of arrests, we've found missing people, we've found stolen vehicles using them," said East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office spokesperson Casey Hicks.
License plates readers are cameras mounted on police or deputy units, which can scan thousands of licenses plates at a time and automatically cross reference the numbers with a national crime database. If a car turns up in the database, the officer gets an alert and can act appropriately.
It was this technology that helped authorities in Virginia quickly track down the man who shot and killed two journalists on live television.
"State police trooper Pam Neff, who was on patrol along Interstate 66. Her license plate reader, LPR, alerted to a license plate on a Chevrolet Sonic traveling East on 66. She followed the vehicle a short distance as troopers responded to assist her before she activated her lights," explained Virginia State Police Sgt. Rick Garletts.
The scanners are in use in East Baton Rouge Parish daily. Seven units with Baton Rouge Police and four units with the EBR Sheriff's office are outfitted with the equipment. Both agencies say it's especially helpful in recovering stolen vehicles. However, as the case in Virginia shoes, the tool can help in a variety of ways.
"They were looking for a particular car, a particular guy, they had a license plate number, they put it into the system and it worked," said Baton Rouge Police spokesman Cpl. L'Jean Mckneely.
However, some civil liberties groups, like the ACLU, have raised concerns that equipment like this can be abused and has little success. Local departments say the license plate readers are strictly used to catch criminals.
"We use it for what it's meant for. We're not actively looking for anything outside of someone who has committed any type of crime," said Mckneely.
The data collected by the scanners is only stored temporarily.