Alameda police happy with new license plate reading technology

You've probably seen them on police cars. Some are round, and some rectangular, but all of them read every license plate that passes by. Alameda Police officer Hank Morten appreciates the extra eyes above him.

"This one will read in about two seconds, and it will pop up on the screen as it goes by the left front camera," Morten explained.

As he drives around his city, Morten's readers capture all license plates they see. His patrol car's onboard computer instantly compares them to the state stolen car data bank.

"I have recovered two stolen cars that have been parked with the license plate reader. And that was in a matter of, within two weeks of us rolling out the license plate reader program."

Alameda had one car equipped with the readers in December and three more vehicles since last month.

The readers have already helped officers in this small city recover 15 stolen cars.

"It's definitely a significant impact," says Sgt. Michael Abreu.

The readers have also helped nab at least one car thief.

"The officer passes them, the plate hits, pull in behind the car, make a stop and arrest the driver, and recover the stolen car," said Abreu.

We saw no stolen cars on this day. But a few weeks ago, the system -- working in reverse -- helped locate and possibly save a missing suicidal person. After an officer entered that person's license plate, the system found that one unit had scanned the plate earlier that day.

"The person didn't want to be found. They were trying to overdose on medication, and they had turned their cell phone off so we couldn't track their cell phone. And inside of about 45 minutes, we located them hidden in their backseat, in their car in Alameda, and rushed them to the hospital," explained Abreu.

The readers have scanned nearly 400,000 plates so far, with almost 360 hits, most of them stolen plates.

Citing privacy concerns, police said they are keeping the records of non-stolen cars for just six months.