Boynton Beach OKs 23 license plate readers to be spread through city

UPDATE from Tuesday night: The City Commission signed off on the 23 automated license plate readers.

Boynton Beach Police Sgt. Phil Hawkins said the readers will be spread through the city.

The city already has two readers. Hawkins said they can help find missing or endangered adults, stolen vehicles and vehicles used in crimes, Hawkins said.

The sole vote against the readers was from Commissioner Christina Romelus.

This breaking news story will be updated Wednesday.

ORIGINAL POST: The vendor Boynton Beach uses for its red light camera program is willing to give the city 23 automated license plate readers for free — an option first offered to commissioners as an add-on when they decided in August to rehire the company to help catch red-light runners.

But if Boynton takes them, the city will have to use the plate readers through May 2021 or else pay a $10,000 early termination fee.

That’s according to the contract offered by American Traffic Solutions that the City Commission is expected to vote on at today’s meeting. May 2021 is when Boynton’s red light camera contract expires, according to the city.

Mayor Steven Grant said the plate readers will “greatly increase” safety in the city.

“We will not have people coming into the city committing crimes and running away because they will know they will be caught,” he said.

He added police are sometimes told the make of a car seen near a crime without additional information. The plate readers could help find vehicles in those situations, he said.

Grant doesn’t know where they would be placed. Boynton already has two plate readers, said police spokeswoman Stephanie Slater. City documents show they’ve been placed throughout the year on Martin Luther King Jr. and Seacrest boulevards.

Commissioner Joe Casello likens the cameras and plate readers to something like “Big Brother.”

And instead of machines, Casello says, “I think we need more badges on the street, walking the street, riding the street.”

The plate readers capture an image of a vehicle’s license plate, then transforms the image into alphanumeric characters, compares the plate number to a database of vehicles of interest to police and alerts the officer when a vehicle of interest has been spotted.

That all happens within seconds.

The plate readers would help the department’s Intelligence Led Policing model of investigations and traffic safety.

Palm Beach County municipalities including Jupiter, Palm Beach, Riviera Beach and Delray Beach all use or plan to use license plate readers.

ATS’ offering came in August when Boynton Beach again became the only municipality in Palm Beach County to have the red-light camera program. Commissioner Mack McCray, who had for years voted against the cameras, asked for his colleagues to discuss the topic and reconsider their original decision that ended the program Jan. 1, 2017. He said he’d seen an increase in speeders and red-light runners since the program ended.

Vice Mayor Justin Katz, who with Grant supported McCray, said in August city leaders were being “trailblazers” in being the only city in the county to bring the cameras back.

Commissioners Christina Romelus and Casello voted against the program.

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