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Federal Way, other King County agencies receive $1M grant to fight auto theft

Kent Police Department utilizes a PAGIS device to assist officers in locating stolen vehicles. It scans 10 license plates per second.  - Joshua Lynch/staff photo
Kent Police Department utilizes a PAGIS device to assist officers in locating stolen vehicles. It scans 10 license plates per second.
— image credit: Joshua Lynch/staff photo

Auto thieves beware, Federal Way police want the help of a machine, along with a task force, to identify stolen vehicles.

As a regional effort to decrease auto theft, Federal Way, along with 17 other South King County law enforcement agencies, partnered in securing a $1.03 million grant from the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority.

The money will be used to implement a regional auto theft prevention and information sharing task force called PATROL and to purchase a $30,000 license plate scanner.

“We are really excited to kick off this large multi-jurisdiction partnership,” said Debra LeRoy, Kent police Research and Development analyst.

The task force will allow the agencies to better communicate and work together in their efforts to decrease auto theft, she said. One license plate reader, called a PAGIS, will be shared among the partners. The task force will decide at a later date which agency will get primary use of the device, LeRoy said.

PAGIS (Police ALPR Graphical Interface System) relies on up to four cameras mounted on the top of a vehicle. The cameras scan nearby license plates and convert the plate numbers to text, which is then run through a database accessible to the officer from his or her vehicle. The system looks for vehicles or license plates reported stolen in the United States and Canada, as well as license numbers associated with felonies or Amber Alerts. If a match is found, the system displays a high-alert notification.

“It’s massive amounts of data that is collected,” Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson said.

Kent Police Department led the effort to land the grant and obtain the scanner, Wilson said. It purchased a device last year and employed it in January.

The equipment is currently used on Kent officer Rigoberto Gonzalez’s marked patrol car. The cameras read all the plates visible to it, even if a vehicle is not moving, Gonzalez said. The system checks between seven and 10 plates per second on average.

From certain angles it can capture a photo of the driver of the automobile as well, Gonzalez said.

An average of four stolen vehicles per work week are identified with the equipment’s help, he said. PAGIS is at least 100 times more effective and quicker than police’s manual efforts to enter license plate numbers into a database as they see fit, Kent officer Paul Petersen said.

Before the department began using the system, a stolen vehicle would be identified about once every 10 days. Now, recovery rates for stolen vehicles have significantly increased, Kent Sgt. Rafael Padilla said.

“This car has more recoveries (of stolen vehicles) than the rest of the department combined,” he said.

It has scanned approximately 150,000 license plates and picked up on more than 100 stolen vehicles, Padilla said.

Federal Way police hope to see the same results. Here, police have worked to decrease auto theft since the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority was established in 2007. The auto theft prevention team reviews the progress of a bill passed last year that deals tougher punishments to auto thieves.

It also distributes grant money to public agencies that present innovative ways to decrease vehicle theft. The grants are derived from a portion of the state’s traffic infraction fines.

“In terms of focusing on the auto theft initiative, it is not a new thing” Wilson said.

This equipment is not new technology either. It comes in four slightly varying forms, made by different companies, Padilla said. The technology is used around the county.

“It’s a tool to assist in the auto-theft effort,” Wilson said. “It’s not a technology we will put in every police car, obviously.”

Contact Jacinda Howard at: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Check it out:

The partners are expected to conduct a televised press conference to announce the grant July 30, LeRoy said. To watch similar equipment in action visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENGY1CD9y_4. To learn more about the PAGIS system visit www.pipstechnology.com/products/software_solutions/pagis_le/.

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