Photo by Curt Yeomans
Jonesboro Police Chief Franklin Allen advocates for two new car tag readers for his department Monday during a city council meeting. The council showed hesitance to OK request but will vote on the matter next week.
JONESBORO — A request by the Jonesboro Police Department to buy two more car tag readers has been pulled over by a city council hesitant about making the purchase.
Police Chief Franklin Allen said his department found success with its only tag reader during its trial run in July. The readers scan license plate numbers and quickly run them through a state database to check for outstanding violations and arrest warrants.
Allen wants two more readers worth $18,900 each. He argues they would bring in additional revenues for the police department and the city. Those revenues will be needed if the police department can’t renew its state-issued radar permit against speeders at the end of the year, he said.
The city will not be able to renew the state-issued permit, which allows police officers to use radar guns to catch speeders, if an ongoing service delivery fight with the county is not resolved.
“We’re faced with a dilemma of losing our speed-detection permit in about six months,” said Allen. “That’s a reality and I feel very confident standing before you and saying we’re going to lose it. We’ve got to come up with an area to improvise and get proactive and get ahead of that.”
The council will vote on Allen’s request at its business meeting next Monday at 7 p.m. at the police headquarters, located at 170 South Main St. Residents will be able to voice their opinions on the matter during a public comment period before the vote is taken. They will have to sign up for public comment immediately before the meeting starts, however.
Jonesboro police pulled over and arrested nine people wanted on warrants and recovered five stolen vehicles from July 3 until July 31 because of their one tag reader, said Allen. He also said 89 vehicles flagged by the tag reader were impounded during that time.
He said while pulling over vehicles flagged by the tag reader, police also made arrests or gave citations for:
• 107 suspended-registration violations.
• 73 expired-car-tag violations.
• 56 lack-of-car-insurance violations.
• 15 suspended-license violations.
• Six expired-license violations.
• Six lack-of-a-car-tag violations.
• Three “misrepresenting”-a-car-tag violations.
• Two license-permit violations.
• Two violations for not having a child under 6 properly restrained.
• One driving-with-an-open-container-of-alcohol violation.
• One driving-the-wrong-class-of-vehicle violation.
“Within a matter of weeks, it has paid for itself,” said Allen.
The council was reluctant to buy into the police chief’s reasoning, however, and argued against some of his key points including the severity of the service delivery threat.
“It’s not for certain that we’re going to lose our radar,” said Councilman Bobby Wiggins. “The service delivery has not been signed but it will be signed sooner or later.”
Mayor Joy Day said it may be awhile before an agreement is signed, however. “I would say within two years — within 18 months to two years,” she said.
Wiggins, who has sat in on some negotiations between the county and its cities on the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST), said he believes a service delivery strategy agreement will come much sooner. The cities have decided to tie LOST and service delivery negotiations together to give them greater bargaining strength.
“My personal opinion is the county is going to come around because it’s got to be done sooner or later,” Wiggins said.
Some members of the council said they believed the numbers produced thus far by one tag reader would not be able to hold up long-term because drivers would begin avoiding the city as more and more of them found out about the readers.
Councilman Clarence Mann said he would like to see more data on people pulled over because of the tag reader collected before the council agreed to buy more readers.
“My concern is that as you put more on the road, you’re not going to be able to keep these numbers up,” said Mann.
The issue of neighborhood safety was also brought up. One point of pride several Jonesboro residents pointed to last year during city elections was a faith in the police department to adequately patrol neighborhoods and deter crime.
“Would they primarily be used out on [Ga.] 19/41 and [Ga.] 54? If that were the case what does that do as far as us having patrols in the neighborhoods?” said Councilman Joe Compton. He said he would like to see tag readers on every police car as long as it didn’t result in officers spending all of their time covering traffic.
Allen said the details of how it would impact neighborhood patrols are still being worked out. He said availability of police in the neighborhoods would be reduced if they are only out on Ga. 19/41 operating tag readers. But he added one tag reader unit might only be used during a day shift and another might only be in operation during the night shift to minimize the impact on neighborhood patrols.
Day, who supports the purchase of additional tag readers, said neighborhood patrols will not be allowed to suffer if more tag readers are in operation.
“I don’t see us devoting ourselves totally and all to traffic,” said Day. “Our No. 1 commitment, for me, is still our neighborhoods, but we have to have a way to police traffic without radar.”