New PV police car equipped with license plate-scanning cameras

Prairie Village police have deployed a new weapon in their fight against burglary and theft.

The “Directed Patrol Unit” police car the department put into use three weeks ago is equipped with cameras that constantly scan the area around the car for license plates. The cameras feed those license plate numbers into a system that checks for outstanding warrants or stolen vehicles.

The department will dispatch the car as a proactive effort to spot suspicious activity in areas that may be more prone to crime. Police Chief Wes Jordan says it’s part of the department’s data-driven efforts to deter crime in pockets where burglaries or thefts might flare up.

“This car doesn’t look like our other cars, because we wanted it to blend into the community a little better than black and white cars do,” he said. “We wanted it to be a little more stealth. The primary mission of this car is to catch bad guys.”

And early results suggest it’s working. Data from the first few weeks of patrols with the new car show it’s produced an arrest every three days. On the first day the unit was in operation, for example, an officer on break was in line at a McDonald’s drive-thru in Kansas City, Mo. The license plate reader threw off an alert that the car in front of the officer was stolen.

“I think they managed to get their food before they were stopped,” Jordan said. “But they didn’t get out of the parking lot.”

The Prairie Village city council authorized the use of forfeiture funds — money generated by the police department from the sale of stolen or illegally used property — to purchase the equipment.

“Thanks to the drug dealers for getting us the money to make this possible,” Jordan quipped to the Prairie Village City Council Monday.