Fight Against Car Theft Goes High-Tech

ELIZABETH – They look like props from the latest TV crime drama, but Union County’s new on-board police computers have a real-life purpose: catching more car thieves and keeping more violent criminals off the streets.

The new computers are automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) devices that use the latest technology to identify license plates and match them with databases.

“Union County was very interested in obtaining this equipment from the start,” said Union County Freeholder Chairman Angel G. Estrada.  “We observed it in action in other jurisdictions, we were convinced that was a worthwhile investment, and we put it in place.”

Union County is among the first counties in New Jersey to obtain the new devices.  Three units were purchased at a cost of $20,000 each, funded by a federal Homeland Security grant.

The ALPRs are equipped with cameras that record an image of the license plate.  Sophisticated software scans the numbers and letters.  The characters are then matched with databases for vehicles associated with significant threats to public safety: car theft, carjacking, terrorism, drug dealing, felony warrants such as murder suspects, and Amber alerts.

The speed and accuracy far exceed any previous technology.  ALPRs can process four license plates per second.  They also work across multiple lanes of high density traffic.

Union County provided its three ALPRs to the Essex/Union Auto Theft Task Force (ATTF) because of its high-intensity use of license plate identification.

“The ATTF continues to be a valuable resource in the fight against crime in the county,” said Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow. “The addition of new technology helps our investigators better execute missions, keep the public safe and ensure that we continue to catch the bad guys. We are, as always, grateful to the freeholders for their continued support as we work to recover stolen cars and give citizens peace of mind.”

The Essex/Union Auto Theft Task Force has been recognized nationally for its innovative tactics.  It has recovered approximately $74 million since it started operating in 1991.

“Now that we’ve had a chance to vet the new technology ourselves, we are confident that it can be used effectively in other local jurisdictions,” said Detective Tony DelDuca, ATTF Commander.  Additional ALPRs would go to the Union County, Linden, Union, and Elizabeth police departments.

The Task Force and the ALPRs are featured in a new 13-week series called “Jacked,” airing Thursday nights at 10:00 on A&E.  An ALPR also appears on the show’s website in a video titled “It’s A Numbers Game,” at

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