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Ripon license plate scanners help snag vehicle theft suspect
Photo contributed An example of vehicles license plate scanners mounted on traffic signal poles.

While the City of Lathrop’s license plate readers have yet to be installed, the technology is already working in neighboring communities that have adopted the technology as another tool for law enforcement officers. 

On Friday, the Ripon Police Department arrested Angel Soto – a 45-year-old Tracy man – on charges of vehicle theft and possession of a stolen vehicle after the city’s license plate readers alerted them that a stolen vehicle was spotted in tow. 

When officers responded they found the stolen travel trailer parked in an abandoned lot on West Santos Avenue – behind the city’s highway travel plaza corridor that is popular with truck drivers – and a high-risk traffic stop was executed because of the unknown circumstances. 

Soto was arrested and transported to the San Joaquin County Jail for the felony charges and is currently being held on $120,000 bail with no scheduled court date currently posted on the Sheriff’s Department website. 

Last week the Lathrop City Council heard an informational item about the policies that will be in place to protect the public once the state-of-the-art cameras – each one of which is capable of reading the license plates of multiple lanes of traffic – are installed at the city’s high-traffic intersections. As part of the purchase that was approved by the council earlier this year, Lathrop will also have a portable trailer that can be positioned anywhere in the community, giving local police the flexibility to target specific areas where vehicle theft may be a problem. 

According to the California Highway Patrol, approximately 13.4 percent of all vehicles stolen in California in 2017 were taken from the Central Valley, and both Modesto and Stockton are routinely near the top of the list as the hottest cities in the nation for auto theft when adjusted for population. 

Because Lathrop’s police services are provided under contract with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, the policy governing how the data from license plate readers is collected and who it is shared with was already in place prior to the Lathrop City Council agreeing to purchase and install the cameras. 

But the cameras and the service that they provide aren’t without their detractors. 

Numerous media reports earlier this year claimed that the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was reportedly been using the database to track suspected illegal immigrants in order to initiate deportation proceedings, and a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union to determine which law enforcement agencies have been uploading information to the database incorrectly stated that the City of Manteca was one of a handful of Northern California agencies that were providing data. After the announcement, Manteca looked into the matter and determined than an old patrol car that was equipped with an LPR previously had the capability of uploading to the database in question, but that vehicle had not been used for some time and the department had complied with all new state laws that prevent agencies from reporting the immigration status of people they detain to federal authorities. 

California law currently prohibits law enforcement agencies from knowingly sharing information with Federal authorities that will be used for purposes of furthering immigration proceedings.

Even with the political sensitivity to the technology, police officials claim that the cameras are a valid tool to assist agencies with tracking stolen vehicles and catching those suspected of committing crimes. 

When installed, Lathrop’s cameras will monitor traffic on both sides of I-5 and capture the license plate scans of the majority of the city’s daily traffic with the flexibility to add additional cameras as the need arises. The cameras will also provide Lathrop Police Services with surveillance capabilities that the city’s older Motorola cameras don’t afford.  

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.