Access to MyStatesman included for Statesman subscribers.
Anyone with an active warrant on their record now has less anonymity to hide behind – even if the marshal doesn’t recognize you, Vigilant nabs you by the license plate in a second flat.
Lakeway began utilizing the license plate scanner sold by Vigilant Solutions in mid-January, and so far the technology has led to the arrest of 13 individuals, according to Lakeway Marshal Fred Johnson.
“It’s a strong piece of technology,” Johnson said. “It does help quite a bit to run each plate. The human eye won’t see as much as this camera system will. It’s another set of eyes that doesn’t get tired, doesn’t get sleepy – fire it up, and it’s ready to go.”
RACHEL RICE/LAKE TRAVIS VIEW
Two cameras sit on the outside of the marshal’s car, one on the driver’s side and one on the passenger side. The cameras are constantly scanning the landscape before them while Johnson is making house calls or patrolling the streets. With a bright pinging noise, Johnson’s computer pulls up a close-up image of each and every plate the cameras capture. The Vigilant software ties the computer into law enforcement databases nationwide. If the plate is associated with a car that was reported stolen, or a car that belongs to someone with an active warrant, or a plate reported in a missing child case, a siren will sound from the computer.
“I’ve been travelling speeds of 60 miles per hour going down the toll way, and it’s going to capture any image I’m passing,” Johnson said. “It’s equivalent to an officer getting on the radio and running a plate. Whatever it sees, it’s going to read.”
Johnson used the system when he worked in Dallas, he said, and advocated for the city to invest in the technology. The city elected to purchase the system outright – Vigilant sustained bad press for providing the equipment and software to municipalities for free, provided anyone pulled over due to the scanners paid their ticket on the spot by credit card, with a tacked-on fee to Vigilant of 20 percent or more.
The city of Lakeway has 3,523 active warrants in its database, according to data from the municipal court. Whether it’s for a traffic violation, an ordinance violation or something more serious, if someone doesn’t show up in court or pay their tickets, the city attempts several times to contact the person in question, Johnson said. Eventually, though, a warrant is issued, signed by a judge, and it doesn’t go away until the person in question takes action to get rid of it. Lakeway, though, has an amnesty program whereby people with active warrants can come to the justice center to clear them.
Lakeway Municipal Court Judge Kevin Madison said people might find it a preferable alternative to being arrested at their home or job.
“We want to work with you on these things – we just want to get warrants cleared,” Madison said. “If you lost your job, we don’t put you in jail because you’re indigent. I’ve had single moms in court, a couple of dads with two or three kids … they’re just barely hanging on by a thread, and in some cases I’ve cut the fine in half and for a number I’ve wiped the fine completely out.”
Vigilant has also received negative press from some who believe the technology presents an opportunity for violations of privacy. The technology has a “stakeout” option, Johnson said, that allows Lakeway police and other agencies to know, based on cameras nationwide, where a specific license plate has been scanned before, and when.
“If you have a plate in the system, we can tell if it’s been spotted in Dallas,” Madison said. “Is that Big Brother? Honestly, it’s a license plate. There’s no expectation of privacy for a license plate driving down the street … we’re not going into people’s homes; they’re on public roads. It’s just another tool.”