The Eden Prairie Police Department has had four automated license plate readers mounted on patrol vehicles for several years. With a grant from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the city is now leasing 13 new automatic license plate readers, which are placed at stationary locations around the city.

City leases 13 such devices

Over the past three years, the number of stolen vehicles in Eden Prairie has increase by about 152%.

“That’s not an anomaly,” Eden Prairie Lt. Jess Irmiter said. “The state has seen increases like this, too.”

To help battle the trend, the Eden Prairie Police Department recently applied for and received a grant through the Minnesota Department of Commerce to lease 13 portable, automated license plate readers, which are now stationed around the city.

The funds are made available through a small fee paid by all state residents as part of their automobile insurance, a fee that Irmiter said is paying dividends in helping law enforcement detect and track down stolen vehicles.

It’s not new technology. The city has had the devices on four patrol vehicles since 2017.

However, the new portable readers now available to the city can be placed in stationary locations across the Eden Prairie, and utilized 24/7.

Collecting data from every vehicle which passes under the 13 readers’ electronic eyes, the devices register a “ping” only when a vehicle is listed as a “hot file” through the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. While the devices collect the data of all vehicles – license plate numbers, the date, time, location and photo of the plates – that information is stored, but not used by law enforcement unless tagged as “hot.” After 60 days, the information of innocent motorists is discarded.

“For the average driver, they may drive through them, but they are never going to ‘ping’ because they are not wanted persons driving stolen vehicles or anything else to connect them to law enforcement,” Irmiter said.

“This is just another way to help our city and the residents bring down the number of stolen vehicles,” Irmiter said. “It’s a grant that will give us more options to fight and deter auto theft.”

While the city’s proactive attempts have resulted in the recovery of stolen vehicles being driven through the city, rarely are vehicles stolen from Eden Prairie actually recovered in Eden Prairie.

That’s because vehicles stolen from a specific location are generally driven to another city where other crimes are committed.

“We have not recovered any of our own stolen vehicles,” Irmiter said. “They usually end up in another city where they’ve been discarded.” He said one vehicle recently recovered in Eden Prairie had between four and six separate crimes associated with it.

A statement by the Eden Prairie Police Department said, “Since the program rolled out ... the department has recovered eight vehicles and made seven arrests resulting from stolen vehicles. All eight of the vehicles recovered by the EPPD were actually stolen in other cities.”

“The people driving these stolen vehicles typically have outstanding warrants and many times firearms are recovered,” Irmiter said.

Each patrol vehicle’s computer is connected to the stationary license plate readers and Irmiter said that whenever a “hot file” results in a “ping” it will reveal for the patrol officer the location, a picture of the vehicle, as well as the time and date.

However, it’s up to the individual officer to determine whether to take law enforcement action.

The license plate reader “points to the direction and it’s up to the officer to investigate,” Irmiter said. “The officer has to independently confirm the accuracy of the information.”

For instance, if it’s snowing, there might be an obstruction that could make the letter E look like a letter F, Irmiter said. “It’s the officer’s determination that they have the right vehicle,” he explained.

In its statement, the Police Department provided one example of the technology in action:

“On March 14, officers were alerted to an ALPR (automatic license place reader) hit near an Eden Prairie retail area for a car that had been stolen out of Minneapolis in a strong-armed carjacking. When Eden Prairie officers tried to arrest the driver, he rammed a squad car, causing damage, and attempted to drive away. The officer was then able to safely disable the vehicle. The suspect exited the car and fled on foot. Officers quickly caught up with him and arrested him for Assault, Receiving Stolen Property, Fleeing in a Motor Vehicle, Failure to Stop and No Minnesota Driver’s License. The suspect was a 17-year-old from Minneapolis.”

“It’s just another way to help the average citizens,” Irmiter said.

The Eden Prairie lieutenant said effective technology used in tracking down stolen vehicles helps law enforcement in the long run, but also said it’s incumbent upon vehicle owners to take steps to make it more difficult for car thieves.

“Officers are doing a great job preventing and recovering stolen vehicles, but we need help from residents too,” the Police Department statement said. “You can help prevent your own vehicle from being stolen by making sure to lock all vehicles parked in your driveway, removing garage door openers from vehicles parked in driveways, and shutting garage doors at all times, especially during overnight hours.”

Irmiter added, “When vehicles are stolen from a neighborhood, people feel less safe. This is one way to keep that from happening.”

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