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Bridgewater police chief wants more high

Aug 02, 2023

BRIDGEWATER - Police Chief John Mitzak wants the township to invest more in the technology that has already been successful in catching the bad guys.

Mtzak came to the Township Council on Thursday to ask for $18,000 to buy and maintain six more License Plate Readers (LPRs) that alert authorities when a vehicle listed as stolen or being driven by a wanted person passes by.

But the LPRs, which operate the same way as E-Z Pass cameras, also alert police to vehicles driven by people who are reported missing or vehicles with Silver Alerts to locate senior citizens with Alzheimer's disease, dementia or other mental impairments.

Bridgewater already has two LPRs and they were instrumental last month in police nabbing suspects in connection with an attempted residential burglary in Finderne who were driving in a car reported stolen in Greenwich, Connecticut.

The four were arrested at the other end of the township in the vicinity of Walters Brook Drive after the LPRs alerted police to the location of the stolen vehicle.

"License Plate Readers have proven to be a game-changer in our efforts to maintain law and order in Bridgewater," Mtzak said. "These sophisticated devices have the potential to improve our approach to public safety and provide us with a force multiplier in our fight against crime."

The LPRs capture and store license plate data from passing vehicles. The plate numbers are instantly cross-referenced with criminal databases and the state Motor Vehicle Commission, providing real-time alerts to law enforcement.

Because of the LPRS, the chief said, the suspects in the attempted Finderne burglary were caught only 15 minutes after the initial police call.

Bridgewater's LPRs, unlike the license plate readers in patrol cars, are in fixed positions.

The cost of the LPRs is $3,000 per year, the chief said.

Township Administrator Michael Pappas said he would look at the township's $46 million budget to see how the expenditure fits into the spending plan.

"I am confident that this investment will provide our police department with valuable tools to combat crime effectively and protect our residents," Council President Michael Kirsh said. "We look forward to thoroughly reviewing the proposed funding strategy and working collaboratively towards making Bridgewater an even safer place to live.”

Mitzak said the Bridgewater Police Department would implement appropriate safeguards to ensure the responsible and ethical use of the collected data.

Councilman Filipe Pedroso expressed concerns that the use of the LPRs should strike a "proper balance" between protecting residents' privacy and serving the needs of law enforcement.

He told the chief that he wanted to know more about the data captured by the LPRs, how it is used and how it is stored.

Email: [email protected]

Mike Deak is a reporter for mycentraljersey.com. To get unlimited access to his articles on Somerset and Hunterdon counties, please subscribe or activate your digital account today..