First stolen car recovered with plate reader

NOVATO, Calif.

A patrol car equipped with an automated license plate reader -- a flat, rotating camera affixed to the car's roof -- found the unoccupied car in the 1200 block of Yukon Way in Novato at about 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sgt. Jennifer Welch said.

The technology was installed on three patrol cars on Aug. 3. "This was the first recovery of a stolen vehicle using our ALPR system," Welch said.

The automobile, a 1998 Honda, had been reported stolen in Alameda County on July 27, Welch said. Police have impounded the vehicle and were attempting to notify the owner this morning. There are no leads yet on a suspect.

The police car camera, which resembles the head of the lead character in the 2008 film "WALL-E," focuses on cars' license plates and instantly alerts officers if a car is stolen or associated with criminal arrest warrants or registration violations.

The system uses software that recognizes the shapes and locations of license plates, and enters the letters and numbers into a database containing thousands of plate numbers, police Lt. J. Demski said. An alert sounds if a car comes up as stolen.

Novato police have installed the cameras on three patrol cars, and the Marin County Sheriff's Department and Tiburon and Mill Valley police departments are also using the technology.

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