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Hempstead Village to add license plate cameras at 7 locations

Hempstead Village Mayor Wayne Hall, center, and from

Hempstead Village Mayor Wayne Hall, center, and from left, Deputy Mayor Luis Figueroa, Lt. Kevin Colgan and Police Chief Michael McGowan, discuss their plan to add license plate reader cameras to the village's high-crime areas during a meeting in his office at Village Hall on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

The Hempstead Village board of trustees votes Tuesday on a plan to purchase license plate reader cameras for the police department, part of the village’s effort to crack down on crime, Mayor Wayne Hall Sr. said.

Twelve cameras are to be installed on utility poles in seven high-crime areas across the village, police and village officials said in interviews this week. Hall said he hopes the cameras will be functional by the end of the month, ahead of the typical spike in crime during the spring and summer.

Plans for these cameras have been in the works for about a year, officials said.

“We need to send a message to all the bad people,” Hall said. “Hempstead is not the place to come.”

Police Chief Michael McGowan said he wants to double the number of locations covered by the cameras within a year. While the department is starting with crime “hot spots,” he said, eventually cameras would be installed at entrances and exits to the village.

Officials declined to release the exact locations where the cameras will be installed, saying criminals might avoid those areas if the information was public.

“They’re going to take another road” if they know where the cameras are, Deputy Mayor Luis Figueroa said.

Hempstead police reported 1,120 crimes in the village in 2015, including 403 violent crimes, according to annual crime data compiled by Newsday.

The cameras, made by Brewster, New York-based Elsag North America, cost about $10,000 each, according to Lt. Kevin Colgan, the police department’s IT supervisor. Most locations need two cameras — one to cover each lane of traffic.

Hall said the village will pay about $200,000 for the cameras and installations out of its contingency funds. Village officials said they’re hopeful they’ll get about 16 additional cameras from the county.

The license plate readers take pictures of vehicles and their license plates, and alert police of traffic violations such as expired registration, as well as criminal offenses such as a stolen vehicle or an incident that may have launched an Amber Alert, Colgan said.

Police can also use the cameras for investigations by tracking a suspect’s vehicle after an incident such as a drive-by shooting, Colgan said.

“It’s going to be a tremendous investigative tool,” he said.

Hempstead police already have three mobile license plate readers installed on patrol cars, as well as a ShotSpotter camera system with sensors that almost instantaneously detect where gunshots are fired.

“You’ve got to use the technology to try and keep people safe,” Hall said.

Several Nassau County villages are using license plate readers, while officials in other communities are considering adding them. Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy has attributed a decrease in crime and dozens of arrests in part to its license plate readers, installed in 2015.

Susan Gottehrer, director of the Nassau County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the organization is always concerned about surveillance technologies and hopes residents have input on the decision.

“Information is being accessed by the government without warrants or probable cause” or even wrongdoing, she said. “This is incredibly invasive.”

CRACKING DOWN ON CRIME

Hempstead Village is the latest Long Island community to consider adding automatic license plate readers to its crime-fighting arsenal.

n The village board is to vote Tuesday on installing 12 plate-reading cameras in seven locations.

n The technology is already in use in Freeport, Kings Point and Woodsburgh in Nassau County.

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