ORLANDO, Fla. – No one with a wanted license plate gets onto the University of Central campus without police knowing about it.
UCF Police Criminal Investigations Division Commander Pablo Vargas said license plate readers at every entrance to UCF and every exit detect threats several times a day.
"Burglary suspects, vehicles on 'hot list' for other agencies, stolen vehicles, missing and endangered people, people who might be an active threat to the community," Vargas said.
UCF police installed them over the summer at the entrances and exits and at one parking garage with plans to put them on all parking garages.
Recently, the LPRs provided police the only clue they had in catching a gang of roving electronics thieves.
Surveillance video showed the group throwing a brick through the window of a campus electronics store and grabbing every laptop in sight, $21,000-worth.
"When we reported to the crime we had no leads, absolutely no leads," Vargas said. "The only lead was the make and model of the vehicle that we found on our camera system. Really, the license plate readers were the best and only tool that we had."
Vargas said the reader identified two license plates that were linked to rental cars. Detectives obtained the renters' information from the rental car companies and that led to an arrest.
“We believe the man we arrested is just one member of a group responsible for electronics thefts across the state that are being investigated by about a dozen agencies,” Vargas said. “We wouldn’t have known who he was without the LPR system, and our investigation is helping other agencies solve cases of their own.”
License plates are only scanned, not recorded, Vargas said, and every "hit" by the LPR system is verified by a dispatcher before sending an alert to police.
Last week, the readers identified a missing man who'd wandered onto campus.
UCF, one of the largest universities in the United States, at the crossroads of a major highway and several large roadways, often becomes a cut-through, Vargas said.
"There's a lot of cars coming in and out," Vargas said. "Some people are coming to school, some people come in at work, some people are coming here to do criminal activity."
The readers, like most in Central Florida, are synced with state and federal databases and police have the ability to input plates of persons of interest.
“If there’s an individual which is posing an imminent and direct threat to the university, we’re going to put him on what we call ‘The Hot List,’” Vargas said. “It’s basically that person has no reason to be on this campus whatsoever. So we want to be the first to know when that person is on campus and eliminate any type of active shooter or threat on our campus.”