License plate readers going up in Volusia County

The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office confirms several new license plate readers have gone up along neighborhood roads in Deltona -- a joint effort between the county and city.

The cameras on top of large poles are being used as a crime fighting tool, one that the county’s sheriff said has proven itself time and time again.

“We’ve caught murder suspects, we’ve caught bank robbers, we’ve caught sexual assaults,” said Sheriff Michael Chitwood.

The readers scan the license plate tabs of vehicles driving past. Chitwood said if a tab is scanned that has been flagged due to a warrant, silver alert, sex offender, or variety of other situations an alert goes out to deputies to look into it.

The cameras also create a database of vehicles that pass through so that officers can go back and cross reference on active cases. Chitwood said that feature could be used in a situation like a bank robbery where all they have is a vehicle description but also an approximate time of when it would have passed by that camera.

The Sheriff said he used the readers extensively during his time as Police Chief in Daytona.

“We ringed the city with tag readers,” Chitwood said.

He said ultimately, he’d like to do that with the county as well so law enforcement could know anytime a flagged criminal suspect is entering or leaving Volusia.

The readers aren’t without critics.  When the cameras started showing up in Deltona, several residents took to social media concerned about who was watching or what kind of data was being collected.

“I don’t know,” said Dave Rayburn who lives next to one of the readers. “It can be a good thing, and it can also be a bad thing.”

Some are concerned about the potential for readers to track law abiding citizens as well; an example of “big brother watching” as some note.

Chitwood said he has heard a lot of those concerns, but urges the readers’ critics to look at the successes they’ve had across the country. He said they’ve already helped lead deputies to several suspects in the short time they’ve been in Deltona, and he said the county uses them purely as a crime fighting tool. A legal one at that, he adds.

“Anything that can be seen by the naked eye like your license plate or your VIN number can certainly be recorded by the government,” said Chitwood. “It’s modern technology. The courts have allowed these to be put in place.”

He said in his mind the goods far outweigh the potential bads of the technology.  The Sheriff’s Office is working on a real time crime center where staff can better track data like that from the license plate readers and more quickly respond when situations arise.

Chitwood said he’s already working with several communities in the county to add the technology, and he only expects the program to expand.