By Joel Hall
Police in Morrow are looking at vehicles in the city with new sets of eyes.
This week, police began using two Mobile Plate Hunter (MPH) 900 devices.
The system features three patrol-car-mounted, high-speed cameras, each with the ability to capture 20 license plate numbers per second and instantly cross reference those numbers with the Georgia Crime Information Center's (GCIC) database of stolen cars, Amber Alerts, and missing persons reports.
The units verbally relay suspicious license plate numbers and car-owner information to officers, allowing them to remain focused on driving.
"It's an amazing technological tool," Morrow Police Chief Jeff Baker said. "The officers download a hot sheet of Amber alerts, stolen cars, missing persons ... it [the MPH 900] will scan licenses in front, in the back, and coming on the opposite side of the street. With this technology, we can drive around the city in 30 or 40 minutes and scan almost every license plate in the city."
Three months ago, according to Baker, Morrow received a $38,500 grant to purchase two MPH 900 units. Each unit is valued at approximately $19,000.
Baker said the technology will be a boon to the city's law enforcement efforts.
Steven Hedley, field operations manager for ELSAG North America, the maker of the MPH 900, said the Morrow Police Department is now one of 17 jurisdictions in Georgia using the devices. He said the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology the devices use was developed 15 years ago by the Italian postal service for reading ZIP code numbers.
"That technology was married with camera technology, and the Mobile Plate Hunter was born," Hedley said. "The Morrow Police Department basically has the ability to scan every plate that goes by them. If a victim reports a car stolen, they can enter a license plate and description of the car, and they can go on the hunt for the car. Normally, without this technology, a person could drive a stolen car right past him if the officer wasn't paying attention. This tells them, 'No, they should look at this car.'
"The added safety is that the officer doesn't have to take his eyes off the road," Hedley added. "It makes his job safer and more efficient."
On Friday morning, Morrow Police Lt. K. Sutton tested his new MPH 900 in the parking lot of Southlake Mall, picking up more than 400 license plate numbers in a span of 20 minutes. He said that before the technology, a place like a mall parking lot would provide cover for car thieves.
"We actually got a stolen hit on the first day we ran the demo about a month ago," Sutton said. "[In] high-traffic areas like this, people will leave stolen cars, because a car won't stand out in a mall. This does more work than I or any other officer could do. It's giving law enforcement the ability to identify more stolen vehicles and hopefully make more arrests."