DANIEL CLIFTON • EDITOR
MARBLE FALLS — Two Burnet County constables now have new technology that will help them locate people with traffic warrants and assist in finding lost seniors and abducted children.
Precinct 2 Constable Garry Adams and Precinct 4 Constable Chris Jett recently installed automated license plate recognition systems (ALPR) on their patrol units that can flag certain vehicles. But they and Burnet County Judge James Oakley pointed out that this isn’t some “big brother” program through which the government is keeping an eye on the population.
“All it does is compare license plate numbers to a list of those that have warrants,” Adams explained. “We’re not just looking at numbers; there has to be a reason for them to be in the computer.”
“We’re not running everybody’s plate; it’s just checking those plates against a list of (drivers) with warrants on them,” he said.
The readers, which are mounted on the hood of the patrol units, continuously check license plates against those on the database. The database includes people with traffic warrants who have already been adjudicated in court and agreed to pay a fine but haven’t; other criminal warrants for which a vehicle can be associated with the individual; vehicles reported stolen; and Amber and Silver Alerts.
But the constables can also utilize the device during an in-progress crime as well.
“Say there’s a report of something in progress. Dispatch can give us the license plate number or even a partial, and we can manually enter that into the computer,” Jett said. “Then, it checks license plates for those numbers and it alerts us if we come across a vehicle with that plate or numbers.”
The system even reads license plates at night.
If the system alerts to a vehicle, Jett said it doesn’t mean he or Adams will immediately initiate a traffic stop.
“It takes a photo of the license that we can pull up on the screen (in the patrol unit),” Jett said. “We’ll compare the number against the list to make sure it’s actually on it and it’s not a mistake.”
Then, the constables will make a visual check of the person driving the vehicle as well to ensure he or she is the person with the warrant.
“If it’s not, and we can see that, we’ll just let them go without stopping them,” Jett said.
Officers using the system in other counties that alert to a Burnet County warrant even contact the issuing judge to verify the warrant is still active.
In the case of a traffic warrant, typically one issued out of Justice of the Peace court, Adams said if they pull somebody over in that situation, it also gives the individual options.
“With this system, they can pay (the court-assessed fine) right there on the spot and then go about their business,” he said. “Or, if they don’t want to, we can take them to jail. It at least gives them an option, where before this, we just arrested them.”
Oakley added that when a person elects to pay the fine during the traffic stop, it must be with a credit card and the fine and associate fees go to the county, not through any of the constable or justice of the peace offices. And no cash is involved. Also, these are fines already assessed by the court. A constable cannot fine a person on the spot for a new traffic violation. In those situations, the constable issues a citation as always and the individual must follow up with the matter in the proper court.
In the case of a stop where the situation involves a more serious criminal warrant, Jett said he or Adams will arrest the person.
“In that case, there are no options,” he said. “They’re just going to jail.”
The system can also help law enforcement locate vehicles involved in Amber Alerts (missing and/or abducted children) and Silver Alerts (missing elderly).
Jett said in Guadalupe County, which also uses the system, a deputy was alerted to a Silver Alert by the reader while patrolling Interstate 10.
Inside the vehicle was an elderly woman missing from the Fort Worth/Dallas area for several days.
“Because of this system, they were able to reunite her with her family,” Jett added.
The constables can also gently remind individuals of their agreement with the court to pay a fine. Adams said if they’re going through a parking lot and the ALPR alerts on a license plate and it all checks out, he or Jett can leave a card on the person’s windshield with a PIN or other information prompting them to address the warrant and pay the fine.
“What we really want them to do is just take care of their fines,” Adams said.
Oakley agreed that the system is really about getting people to take care of their court obligations.
Any data (license plate numbers and the time and location it’s read) collected through the system as the constables are on patrol gets purged after 30 days, officials said, unless it’s information manually entered such as in the case of an in-progress crime, which is kept for up to 90 days.
The entire system comes at no cost or financial obligation to the county, Oakley said. Vigilant Solutions supplies the equipment and software through fees assessed on transactions in which their equipment played a role.
“None of the fees comes off anything the county would get,” Oakley said. “And we’re not creating any new fines; these are fines that are already owed to the county and for whatever reason people haven’t paid them and now they have a warrant out on them.”