Following the example of law enforcement agencies in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, Horry County police plan to join the state’s license plate reader program.
Purchasing 17 license plate readers would cost just over $128,000, county officials said Monday. This camera system uses character recognition technology to “read” license plates, then compare tag numbers with a list provided by state and federal law enforcement. If there’s a match — say for a stolen vehicle — an alert is sent directly to a nearby officer’s laptop.
“It’s always on duty,” HCPD Chief Joe Hill said. “These cameras operate 24-7. It’s real-time data, so an officer on patrol will get an alert 24-7.”
Police would use the cameras on busy highways such as S.C. 31, S.C. 22 and U.S. 378. The readers would also help scan traffic for the Grand Strand’s first college football bowl game at Coastal Carolina University later this year.
In fact, Hill said the bowl game has been designated as a “national security event” and was a driving factor behind pursuing this technology.
The readers provide police with key information that can be used to identify vehicles linked to wanted persons or Amber Alerts.
“You can see not only the license plate but the color and sometimes the make and model of the car,” Hill said.
SLED manages and stores the plate readers’ data, and that information is retained for several years. That means if detectives investigating a crime want to find out if a car was in a specific location at a certain time, those details are available through this system.
Statewide, the cameras have been disguised as traffic cams, utility boxes and trailers.
“They’re all over the place,” Hill said.
The chief stressed that the plate readers do not capture personal information about the owner, such as a name or address.
County officials touted Myrtle Beach as a model of how a successful license plate reader program works.
In 2018, the city’s plate readers generated nearly 78,000 police alerts, according to data presented to county council’s administration committee Monday.
“The success of Myrtle Beach ought to be reason enough to move ahead with it,” county councilman Gary Loftus said.
County staff said they are looking for a way to pay for the technology, but they expect at least part of the funding will be built into the county’s next budget.
County seeking grant to hire more officers
County officials on Monday also discussed plans to apply for a federal grant that would be used to hire 15 additional patrol officers.
If the county receives the grant, the decision would not come in time to include the money in the upcoming budget. However, council members expect to soon receive $5.8 million in reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for expenses during recent hurricanes.
Barry Spivey, an assistant county administrator, said that funding could be used to pay for the initial hiring expenses.
Police officials have maintained the county’s growth requires more manpower.
“We’re planning for the population boom here in Horry County,” Hill said.