The New York Police Department's growing use of license-plate-reading cameras has been transforming investigative work, says the New York Times. Though the imaging technology was conceived primarily as a counterterrorism tool, the cameras have aided in all sorts of traditional criminal investigations. Last month, Marat Mikhaylich, a suspect in nine bank robberies, was arrested as he was driving a stolen car whose license plates were identified by a security camera.
There are 238 license plate readers in use in New York City; of those, 130 are mobile. They are mounted on the back of police cars assigned to patrol duties across the city's five boroughs and to specialized units like the highway and counterterrorism divisions. The remaining 108 cameras are set up at fixed posts at city bridges and tunnels and above thoroughfares. The cameras have provided clues in homicide cases and other serious crimes. The technique has been adopted by smaller cities in California, Minnesota and Arizona, and police in Philadelphia have started using the readers, too. “It's one of the fastest-growing technologies in the country,” said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum.