NEW: Wellington council OKs first step toward license-plate cameras

The village council has voted to approve spending money taken from seized and forfeited assets to pay for a license-plate reading system officials say could help solve and prevent crimes.

Wellington has more than $350,000 available in Law Enforcement Trust Fund cash, but Florida law requires a council vote to approve spending that money on the license-plate cameras. Tuesday’s 4-0 vote — Councilman Michael Napoleone was absent — sets the stage for Wellington to negotiate a contract that will be brought back to the council for approval Aug. 14.

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The cameras capture license plate images, which are sent to the national Law Enforcement Archival Reporting Network database that can be searched by law enforcement agencies. The system also sends alerts to deputies when a license plate is flagged as reported stolen or used in a crime.

While the system is known primarily for helping track down stolen vehicles, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office also said it can be used as for “life and safety” issues including finding missing people and tracking vehicles that are part of Amber or Silver alerts.

PBSO has proposed installing 31 license-plate reading cameras at seven key spots in Wellington:

  • Binks Forest Drive south of Southern Boulevard
  • Big Blue Trace south of Southern
  • Forest Hill Boulevard at Quercus Lane
  • Forest Hill at Stribling Way
  • Forest Hill at Lyons Road
  • Stribling Way west of State Road 7
  • Lake Worth Road west of Panther Run Elementary School

One or two of the cameras could be mounted on trailers so they could be moved, Village Manager Paul Schofield said. The village has said it expects the initial cost of installing the cameras to be more than $300,000, with annual operating costs of about $35,000.

PAST COVERAGE: Wellington plans to use license-plate readers to help stop car thieves

Wellington has faced an uptick in stolen vehicles and car break-ins, with those two crimes helping drive a slight increase in the village’s crime rate last year. The number of vehicles stolen in Wellington went up 20 percent from 74 in 2016 to 113 last year, and car break-ins rose from 295 in 2016 to 337 last year, the 2017 PBSO annual crime report shows.

If Wellington approves buying and installing the cameras, it would not be alone in the county. Lake Worth recently approved installing 22 license-plate cameras. In a test of that city’s program, two to three stolen vehicles a day were found in Lake Worth, PBSO said.

Other municipalities that have the system in place include Palm Beach, Boynton Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, Manalapan, North Palm Beach and Delray Beach. Boca Raton officers use cameras mounted on their cruisers to scan license plates.

Law enforcement officials have seen some success with similar systems. In Palm Beach Gardens in 2016, police officers arrested a man after a license-plate reader set up on a trailer at the intersection of PGA and RCA boulevards alerted authorities to a stolen Maserati.

Because of spending restrictions on the Law Enforcement Trust Fund, Councilman John McGovern asked PBSO District 8 Capt. Rolando Silva if this was the best way to spend the money.

“With those limitations, we can’t think of a better use than this program that we’re looking to embark on,” Silva said.

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