Bell County: Sheriff’s Dept. uses grant to purchase license plate reader

Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 6:55 PM CDT
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BELL COUNTY, Texas (KWTX) - The Bell County Sheriff’s Department is using a federal grant to purchase a license plate reader that looks much like the radar speed trailers authorities place along roadsides.

The device, which can be moved to different locations in the county, scans the license plates of passing cars.

“Let’s say you’re complaining that people are driving too fast through your neighborhood. I can deploy that, and I can pull up and say, ‘well, there were 21 people within these hours that were speeding in that neighborhood,’” said Bell County Sheriff’s Lt. Robert McClinton.

County officials say drivers should not worry about getting ticketed.

“Can we do traffic surveys? 100 percent. But it’s not taking a picture of a vehicle that’s speeding down the road and mailing you a ticket,” McClinton said, unlike the controversial red light traffic cameras the Texas Legislature outlawed in 2019.

Traffic surveys aside, the county said the plate readers will serve a bigger purpose in locating cars involved in Amber Alert and Silver Alert cases and other crimes.

“Those license plates get entered into a system and, as that vehicle passes, it’ll run a key on that license plate and notify us,” said McClinton.

The county says the nearly $40,000 Homeland Security grant will cover the cost of purchasing the machine from a company called Vigilant Solutions and the cost of operating it for two years, meaning taxpayer funds will not be used on the project in the foreseeable future.

“At the end of two years, the sheriff’s department will have the opportunity to determine if they want to use that system and pay for it themselves out of their sheriff’s department budget or if there’s another grant opportunity,” Bell County Commissioner Bobby Whitson said.

Officials said the license plate reader will be moved around based on where deputies need it for investigations.

Right now, deputies are working to register with national and state databases before deploying the machine.

The Village of Salado in December agreed to buy similar license plate readers.

The machines used in Salado are stationary and have already been installed around town.

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