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Another odd vehicle in Queens
May 1, 2007 8:22 AM   Subscribe

About a month ago I happened to be outside my house in Queens at about midnight. I saw what looked like a cop car with license plate reading cameras drive by. Anyone have more info?

I live on a very quiet residential street, no through traffic at all. The car was a late-model Impala, black with tinted windows. Mounted to the roof on the front corners were two cameras, Shrek-style. The car did a normal-speed cruise down my block, and turned the corner. It's brakes did the you-need-new-pads squeal at the stop sign on the corner.

The obvious conclusion is that it's a cop car recording license plates, what I'm assuming were cameras were aimed roughly where plates of parked cars would be visible, down and out. Has anyone heard of something like this? I've seen no-camera Crown Vics around the area looking for cars to tow for parking violations, but the midnight-dash style of this was a bit suspicious.

I'm interested in both the legal questions, who is doing it and for what purpose and the technical ones, are the cameras IR, are they automatically OCR'd or just reviewed later by humans. I suspect it's similar to this but the cameras were external and it looked like a parked-car scan rather than constant traffic monitoring.
posted by Skorgu to Law & Government (7 answers total)
Wired article. They are fairly commonplace, however I suspect they aren't noticed too much when they are doing it at night.
posted by Big_B at 8:32 AM on May 1, 2007

The obvious conclusion is that it's a cop car recording license plates

Why? I don't think roof-mounted cameras would be ideal for recording plates. Did you see any police markings?

I recall a previous askme about such a vehicle where the answer had to do with some google-earth-type of mapping service with ground level photos/video, but I can't find it right now.
posted by winston at 8:38 AM on May 1, 2007

Big_B yeah, that sounds similar. What threw me wasn't so much the fact that they were scanning plates, but that they were doing it at midnight, yet the cameras were pretty obvious. It struck me as an odd combination.

winston, no police markings, but a black, tinted Impala is pretty much only a cop car here in NYC. I've seen the street-level mapping vans/trucks, and I asked a previous question about another camera-laden vehicle which led to some great info. I can't imagine anyone would want street-level views of a residential neighborhood at midnight anyway.
posted by Skorgu at 9:17 AM on May 1, 2007

winston: Most of the photos, and vehicles I've seen in person, have the cameras mounted on or near the roof, pointed down at an angle. My quick guess as to why would be to help see the plate for longer over the hood of the car parked behind the car you're looking at.

In Washington DC, I've seen a camera van drive down a street, stop and then boot a car that was parked.

There have been efforts to take street level photography in cities, but they tend to have either internal cameras that look through windows or, you know, ones that point sideways rather than aiming at license plate level.
posted by skynxnex at 9:21 AM on May 1, 2007

We have these in Chicago. Theyre roof-mounted and aim down towards the plates. Theyre usually used by the department of revenue to scan plates and to see if that car they scanned needs to be booted (for not paying tickets.) Essentially, this keeps the operators from having to manually input the license plates and lets them scan an entire street just by slowly driving past it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:23 AM on May 1, 2007

If I was going to boot a car. I would want to do it when the owner was asleep.
posted by mrbugsentry at 9:30 AM on May 1, 2007

They also do this in LV for trying to recover stolen vechiles. #1 in vehicle thefts per capita! No wonder why my insurance rates are so high.
posted by SirOmega at 10:33 AM on May 1, 2007

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