After receiving an $18,000 grant from the state, the Johnstown Police Department has a new tool to help officers catch criminals on the village's streets.
A license-plate reader that can scan thousands of license plates per minute has been installed on the department's new Dodge Charger cruiser and already is being used to track criminals in Johnstown.
"It can read about 18,000 license plates -- if you could pass that many cars -- in a minute," police Chief Don Corbin said. "So every car that you pass, it reads the license plate."
That doesn't mean it keeps personal information, though, Corbin said.
"If the license plate is not connected with any kind of a criminal problem, then it disappears as the next license plate comes up," Corbin said. "Those plates are stored for seven days and then they disappear. So if we pass your license plate, we don't know who you are or anything about you unless there's a crime connected to that car."
Officer Chris Cooperrider uses the reader on a daily basis and said it already has made his job more efficient and effective. In the past, he would run 30 to 40 license-plate checks per day, but with the new equipment, he's close to 3,000.
"I'm kind of choosy when it comes to running tags," he said. "So this just does it all for me so it makes it a lot easier for my job and makes me a little more productive when I'm out and about."
Cooperrider said he no longer has to bother dispatchers to run tags, and the reader will pull records on anything from sex offenders to stolen vehicles. It's also intuitive to use, he said.
"It's so easy," he said. "My kids would be able to figure it out."
Village Manager Jim Lenner called the reader a "wonderful tool" and said he's pleased to know that if someone with a criminal background comes through town, officers will know.
"This is a tool to help our officers keep our citizens safe and the traveling public safe," he said. "From the administrative standpoint, I think it's a wonderful piece of equipment."
Although some might feel uncomfortable with having their license plates read on a daily basis, Corbin said, it's worth it to catch those who have something to hide.
"Our license plates are read all the time by any different method," he said. "I know people freak out about it, but our images are out there every day. We're videotaped every day; our license plates are read every day by somebody somehow. It just helps us catch the people who are doing bad things."