Valley police departments adding tech
Warren, Liberty getting license plate readers
Two Trumbull County police agencies are trying new tools to keep one technological step ahead of criminals.
The Warren Police Department is hoping better technology can help with crime-fighting tactics. Mark43, the leading cloud-native public safety software company, announced this month that it is partnering with the city police to install a new records management software.
Also, a recent U.S. House appropriation will allow several license plate readers to be installed into Warren’s patrol cruisers.
In Liberty Township, there is an agreement with Flock Safety for six of these plate readers for police officers. The cost, $17,500 for the first year and $15,500 for the second, will be paid out of the township police drug enforcement fund. In the Liberty system, the readers are mounted on utility poles and send signals to officers.
Warren police Chief Eric Merkel said his officers will have their plate readers mounted in their cruisers, just like ones on Ohio State Highway Patrol vehicles.
Lt. Brian Vail, commander of the patrol’s Warren post, said none of the patrol cruisers in his jurisdiction have plate readers, but some patrol vehicles assigned to the Ohio Turnpike do.
For the license plates readers, some residents may be concerned about further technological intrusion into their lives.
Merkel, however, said these new devices will only improve the law enforcement effort to keep them safe. He assures motorists in the city the new device will not be misused by officers just looking for more traffic stops.
“The device will signal or ‘beep’ when a license plate check comes back with a warrant attached or other violation, like a stolen vehicle. However, there will be no data or information attached to these receivers,” Merkel said.
A spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s office, Steven Irwin, said: “We do not have any complaints for LPRs.”
Irwin also said his office has not set any general policy for law enforcement use of the device. “The policy decisions about how and when to use LPRs in Ohio rely with the local agencies who employ the technology,” he said. “That is up to the individual jurisdictions.”
In Liberty’s arrangement with Flock Safety, the six readers are mounted on utility poles and send signals to officers.
Liberty police Chief Toby Meloro said the cameras will serve as an “investigative tool” only, saying law enforcement always can benefit from the newest technology to help crack down on crime, such as tracking down stolen vehicles.
Mark Finamore, an attorney who has been legal counsel for many area townships and communities, said these types of cameras, unlike others used to record speeding vehicles, are used to locate a specific vehicle by its license plate — should it be involved in an illegal activity, such as robbery or theft.
Nearly 50 Ohio communities are employing readers. Finamore thinks this tool is a good thing.
“This provides a shortcut for law enforcement to locate a vehicle and its license plate number and possibly even the person driving. With crime and road rages up in many communities, these cameras will be able to quickly allow law enforcement to locate a specific type of vehicle in the community,” he said.
A northeastern Ohio police department has reaped dividends from the license plate readers. On June 1, an armed robbery suspect in a stolen car drove by one of the license plate readers in Richmond Heights and police instantly received notification. Officer caught up to the driver and he was arrested in a neighboring jurisdiction after a high-speed chase.
In Howland Township, the park board on Friday received a $28,000 quote from ALC Technologies for the purchase and installation of 20 cameras, including several license plate cameras, in Howland Township Park. The park, including its restrooms, has repeatedly been the target of vandals.
Among the proposed 20 cameras are several that could read license plates in the dark, which cost around $880, according to Bill Walsh with ALC. Park commissioners will meet at 9 a.m. Aug. 22, at the Wright Building in Howland Township Park for a work session to further go over the proposal.
As for Warren’s new record management system, a news release states it will allow officers to reduce duplication, red tape and the time spent completing paperwork, decreasing from 50 to 80 percent the time for writing reports and doing arrest documents.
“It is critical that officers have the best tools possible to do what is already a difficult job,” Merkel said. “We want to ensure our officers have modern means in their work environment. By equipping them with tools that are easy to use, we’ll be able to keep them out where they want to be — in the community.”
Merkel said he doesn’t know how much training on the part of his officers will be involved since the system has not yet been installed.
Councilman Greg Greathouse, D-3rd Ward, finance chairman for Warren council, said the funding for the records system comes out of the city’s American Rescue Plan funding but couldn’t give exact figures on Warren’s contract with Mark43 for the new records software.
Neither Mark43 spokespersons nor councilmen could give a exact figure on how much this will cost Warren.
Last month, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, had announced, as part of a federal spending plan, some $170,000 will be going to the Warren Police Department to buy mobile forensic survey equipment and mobile license plate readers.
The equipment would be used to support the department’s criminal investigations by improving the precision of its cell site analysis while the plate readers, mounted on marked patrol cars, would enhance the effectiveness of Warren police officers by instantly alerting them about possible violations when a license plate is scanned, according to Ryan’s office.