RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – The license plate readers look like a small camera, but they do a big job. With hundreds of vehicles barreling down highways, they can scan more than 30 plates per second. So far, they've helped state police scan and recover nearly 100 stolen cars.
"This is a very effective tool that we use in our job," said trooper Steve Escobar.
He feels a whole lot safer getting behind the wheel. Instead of jotting down license plate numbers and vehicle descriptions then calling them into dispatch he now waits for his cue.
"If a tone comes over the computer saying that we might have a possible hit then we cross-reference that with the plate."
It only takes a matter of minutes from alert to apprehension.
"If we do get a hit on a stolen vehicle we can actually set up getting other troopers in route to our locations," Escobar said.
The technology is part of Virginia's H.E.A.T. program: help eliminate auto thefts. Since 2006, 93 stolen vehicles were scanned on roads and in parking lots. 92 of those vehicles were recovered. 41 people were arrested.
"Twenty-percent of everything that gets stolen in Virginia has the keys in it and is left unattended and running when it gets stolen," said Carl Fisher with the Virginia State Police HEAT program.
Fisher says while cameras are key, education is the best defense to keeping your car in your custody.
"It's either going to be sold, stripped for parts or it's going to be used in another crime," Fisher said.
Stolen vehicles have been linked to robberies, homicides and other violent crimes. Just 20 years ago there were more than 21,000 vehicle thefts each year. Virginia is one of the first states to have extra eyes on the road. While there are fewer pursuits and confrontation with police it hasn't diminished the all potential dangers.
"This is just another tool in our tool chest as a way to arrest auto thieves," said Fisher.
Once a vehicle is recovered, depending on how long it's been stolen, it may go to the insurance company or back to the owner. If you have info on a stolen vehicle, call 1-800-947-HEAT.