Chicago police use license plate reader technology to fight against carjacking surge

CHICAGO (WLS) -- License plate readers aren't new, but Chicago police hope the technology can help them put a dent in the city's carjacking crisis.

Finding a stolen car is the traffic equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack, but these high speed, high resolution cameras that can be mounted on squad cars or at fixed locations are being utilized by CPD more and more to identify carjacked vehicles by their license plates. Sometimes they can find them minutes after they're taken.

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"We are on the ground 100%, and we are giving it our all to get these carjackers," said Sgt. Steve Jarosz, vehicle hijacking task force.

Jarosz leads the license plate reader unit, which has been given the full resources of the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

"We've been using the technology to its fullest, and that's between the districts, here at OEMC," he said. "We are using it to the fullest."

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CPD is not alone; on Monday two people were arrested after a license plate reader in Gary, Ind., identified the SUV they were driving as having been carjacked from Chicago. Law enforcement was able to track the vehicle into Illinois, and eventually Oak Lawn, where a pursuit led to a crash.

Though carjackings in Chicago this year are up more than 30% compared to last year, police say the readers have helped the recover more than 100 stolen vehicles that might not have been found otherwise.

"We are recovering cars at a higher rate," Jarosz said.

Officials declined to say exactly how many readers are being used in the city. Some, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have raised privacy concerns and want limits imposed on the collection of data.
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