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State Police tout license plate readers as more are planned in central Illinois

The Kennedy Expressway in Chicago
The Kennedy Expressway in Chicago

The Illinois State Police say automated license plate readers have helped with investigations of interstate shootings in 82% of the cases this year. That number is 100% when the shootings are fatal.

“The use of automated license plate readers has been a game changer in investigating interstate shootings, as well as vehicular hijackings and thefts,” said ISP Director Brendan F. Kelly. “They provide us vital leads for our investigation, allowing us to track the events immediately leading up to and following the shootings to identify the vehicle involved. The license plate readers are an invaluable tool that assists us in identifying violent crime suspects.”

Most of the readers were installed along major roadways in the Chicago area, but four are in Morgan County. This year, installations are planned in Macon and possibly Sangamon Counties.

ISP said ALPR technology and intelligence can identify offending vehicles involved in shootings within minutes.

The cameras use software to scan the license plates of every passing car, recording the date, time, GPS coordinates and even pictures.

The vehicle registration from the offending vehicle can then be entered into the ALPR alert system and officers could potentially locate that vehicle within a few hours. The following are some recent examples in which ISP has utilized ALPRs for success.

· Special agents investigating a fatal interstate shooting identified and interviewed a witness who indicated the driver of a vehicle shot at the victim in what appeared to be a road rage incident. Using ALPRs, ISP was able to identify the vehicle and the investigation ultimately resulted in charges of First Degree Murder and Unauthorized Use of a Weapon by a Felon.

· A trooper monitoring the ALPRs received an alert of a stolen vehicle. The trooper attempted to make a traffic stop, at which time the vehicle sped away. When the vehicle stopped, everyone in the vehicle took off running. One person had a rifle inside their waistband and was taken into custody. In searching the path of another person running, ISP found two additional firearms.

· ISP received a report of an alleged vehicle hijacking. In an attempt to identify a suspect, special agents spoke with a witness and after reviewing ALPR images during the time of the alleged hijacking, special agents confirmed the vehicle had not been hijacked, but instead was involved in a police pursuit with another agency and a hit and run crash the night of the alleged hijacking.

· ISP responded to an interstate shooting where the victim was almost struck in the head by a bullet. Troopers entered the victim’s registration into the ALPRs, and with ALPR intelligence, were able to identify the offending vehicle. A few hours later, troopers received an ALPR alert of that vehicle and were able to locate it. Troopers initiated a traffic stop and took the driver into custody, during which time they found a loaded firearm inside the driver’s waistband.

· A trooper monitoring ALPRs received an alert of a stolen vehicle. The trooper located the vehicle and attempted to make a traffic stop, at which time the vehicle sped off. Ultimately, ISP was able to recover the vehicle and took two people into custody and recovered five firearms.

From January 1 – May 31, 2024, ISP took enforcement action with the use of ALPRs in at least 260 investigative cases.

But there is resistance. A lawsuit has been filed in Cook County accusing the state of operating an unconstitutional “system of dragnet surveillance.” They say the cameras track law abiding motorists. They argue that’s a violation of the Fourth and 14th Amendments.

The funding and installation of ALPRs stem from the Tamara Clayton Expressway Camera Act (Expressway Camera Act), which was signed into law on July 12, 2019 and became effective on January 1, 2020. On February 4, 2019, Ms. Clayton was on her way to work when she was tragically shot and killed while driving on I-57 near Cicero Avenue. ISP investigators responded and the investigation into her death remains ongoing.

In February of 2021, ISP received a $12.5 million grant to cover the costs of engineering, permitting, and labor associated with the purchase and installation of readers, controllers, servers/software, electrical power, and communications equipment required to install ALPR systems. ISP said the images from these cameras are not used for petty offenses, such as speeding. In 2022, the Tamara Clayton Act was expanded with an additional $22.5 million for equipment and installation in additional counties.

In 2021, ISP installed approximately 100 ALPRs along I-94. By the end of 2022, 289 ALPRs were installed in the Chicago area. In 2023, ISP installed 139 additional ALPRs in Champaign, Cook, Morgan, and St. Clair counties. In 2024, ISP plans installations in Macon, Madison, Peoria, Bureau, Lake, and Winnebago counties, with additional cameras potentially in Boone, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Henry, Kane, Kendall, LaSalle, McHenry, Rock Island, Sangamon, and Will counties, and Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.

More information can be found here.

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