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Pembroke on board with license plate reader
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Shown a little wet after Tuesday's rain are two of the three license plate reader cameras that are mounted on the trunk of a Pembroke Police Department patrol car. - photo by Photo by Paul Floecker

The Pembroke Police Department’s newest addition has keen eyes and a photographic memory.

Pembroke City Council on Monday approved a $20,000 lease-purchase agreement through the Georgia Municipal Association and BB&T bank for an automated license plate reader system.

A tag-reader camera takes a photo of a car’s license plate. The tag number then is entered into the national database in the patrol car’s computer to provide information on the driver and the vehicle.

The Pembroke Police Department used the tag reader on a trial basis from the company Vigilant Solutions, and the results made the department want to keep it. The automated system is now installed in one of the department’s patrol cars, with three cameras facing different directions mounted on the trunk.

“It is a good tool to have,” Police Chief Randy Alexander said.

The license-plate reader will be used 40 hours a week “all over the city,” Alexander said. A car tag from any state can be scanned and analyzed, alerting the officer to red flags such as a driver with an expired license or no insurance.

“We know that this is a very efficient and effective way to make sure that people are driving with their vehicle registered as it should be,” Pembroke Mayor Mary Warnell said.

However, the tag reader turned up much more than just traffic violations during its trial use in Pembroke. In some cases, a person stopped for a minor infraction had drugs in the car or was wanted on a criminal charge.

“Whatever you can think, that tag reader has done,” Alexander said. “Look what we got off the street.”

The lease through the Georgia Municipal Association is for two years, after which the city will own the tag reader. BB&T gave Pembroke a 3.2 percent interest rate, considerably lower than the “4.7, 4.8, somewhere in that range” the city would’ve received had it not gone through GMA for the lease-purchase agreement, City Administrator Dustin Peebles said.

Drivers accumulated more than $15,000 in fines in the 14 days of the tag reader’s trial run, according to Alexander. That included $4,100 on the first night alone, said Pembroke Public Safety Director Bill Collins.

“It’ll pay for itself,” City Clerk Betty Hill said.

More than being a money maker for the city, though, the tag reader will help cut down on crime, according to Collins. Along with checking vehicles on well-traveled roads such as Highways 67, 119 and 280, the tag reader will be used in areas of the city where drug activity has been known to occur.

“We create a history of what vehicles we know are in a high-drug area, and we can cross-reference that with someone else with a tag reader that found that tag in another high-drug area in their city,” Alexander said. “So it gives us a good tracking history of certain vehicles that we may want one for.”

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