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License plate readers helping KPD solve crimes, locate missing people

The cameras were first installed in May 2021. Since then, officers have recovered 14 firearms, 97 vehicles, lots of drugs, and more than $15,000.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Police are using new technology to solve crimes and find missing people across Knoxville. There are 18 license plate readers stationed across parts of the city to help identify stolen cars, missing people, and people on the run from the law.

"It's a good way to get suspect vehicle information quickly to the officers and investigators who need that," said Lt. Chris McCarter, who works in the special services unit of the patrol division at the Knoxville Police Department. "Things that would have taken us hours and hours and days to do 20 or 25 years ago, we can do in a matter of minutes now."

Every license plate reader is stationed on a public roadway that's frequently used. If you drive by one, the camera snaps a picture of your plate and compares it to a "hotlist" created by KPD and other law enforcement agencies.

"If we have a car that might be involved in a robbery or we have somebody that we are looking for that has warrants on file ... we can enter that license plate into a hotlist," said Lt. McCarter. "They've been very successful so far."

Credit: WBIR

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Since KPD began using the license plate readers last spring, the department has arrested 120 people from reports involving the readers.

Police said the technology helped officers recover nearly 100 stolen vehicles, 14 stolen firearms, lots of drugs, and more than $15,000.

"It's an invaluable tool that we have," Lt. McCarter said. 

The license plate readers have helped in non-criminal cases too. At least twice, they've helped find missing people with Alzheimer's or dementia. 

"We were searching for that person and we were able to use the license plate readers to quickly and safely recover that person," Lt. McCarter said. 

He said all of the cameras are located on public roadways. None of them are used to help police follow people or issue tickets.

"They're not continuously monitored by anybody. They're not recording anybody," he said. "It's not facial recognition or anything like that."

Instead, it's another tool they're able to use to help solve crimes and find missing people.

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