Plate readers

Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter

An Automated License Plate Reader has been attached to a traffic signal at a major intersection in the Mon Valley under a program designed to help police solve crimes.

CHARLEROI – A license plate reader installed at a fixed location recorded most of the suspects in a brutal assault, allegedly carried out by Pagans, as they left the Charleroi area together in April.

The data helped Charleroi Regional police build evidence to make arrests in the case, just one of a growing number of crimes that are being solved with the help of Automated License Plate Readers, authorities said.

“I love the way we’re deploying them at major intersections,” said Canonsburg police Chief Al Coghill, who also is president of the Washington County Chiefs of Police Association.

There are a dozen ALPRs in Washington County, and Allegheny County “is flooded with them,” Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone said.

“They save police time, Vittone said. “The don’t have to put out BOLOs or sit at intersections now to wait and to watch for licenses plates.”

The cameras take photos of vehicles and use character recognition technology to identify vehicle registration plates. The software also tags the plates to locations, allowing police to track their movements.

“It’s been very beneficial, Vittone said. “It’s solved a lot of crime.”

Eight members of the Pagan Motorcycle Club and two alleged accomplices are awaiting trial on attempted homicide charges in Washington County Court in the April 18 assault of Troy Harris in the Charleroi Slovak Club. Video surveillance in the club’s bar also helped investigators identify the gang members.

“It’s a great tool for sure,” Charleroi police Chief Eric Porter said.

This technology also helped South Strabane Township police identify Elvis Roman of Romania in a 2018 case involving a credit card skimmer that resulted in the thefts of thousands of dollars from local banks, township police Chief Drew Hilk said.

Federal prosecutors took over the case resulting in Roman being indicted in November of that year. He pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft, bank fraud and conspiracy to commit bank fraud and was sentenced Thursday to spend 34 months in a federal prison, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Pittsburgh said.

Hilk said his department has used ALPRs to make dozens of retail theft arrests. Officers there have located stolen vehicles and solved fraud cases using the devices, he said.

“The list of it keeps growing,” Hilk said.

He also said judges have indicated they want prosecutors to use technology more to prove their cases.

The APLRs were installed with the thought that they would be helpful in cases involving abducted children, Vittone said.

“You hope you don’t have to use it,” Coghill added.

Staff Writer

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley.

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