SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Chances are the little black boxes on street corners around unincorporated Shelby County are unnoticeable to most.
They’re license plate readers, and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office began installing 49 of them Wednesday as part of a pilot program to help solve crime.
“I hadn’t heard much about it,” Arlington resident Essie Mitchell said.
“It’s capturing images of the vehicles and tags, that’s it,” Lt. David Ballard with the sheriff’s office said.
Ballard said the plate readers won’t be used to check for things like expired tags. It’s purely to help investigators solve crimes.
According to an affidavit, it was a license plate reader that helped link a man to the murder of his 4-month-old son and former girlfriend back in September.
“Once an investigation has begun, people that have access to these cameras can go in and look to see which vehicles have accessed the areas the crime’s been committed [in] during those times,” Ballard said.
The Memphis Police Department confirmed it already has license plate readers stationed throughout the city, but a spokesperson couldn’t confirm how many.
The sheriff’s office already has plate readers on some of its patrol cars, but these are its first stationary ones.
In addition to solving crimes, deputies are hopeful the readers may also deter crime. Most people WREG spoke with were skeptical that that would happen, but they felt better knowing law enforcement would have a leg up when crime does strike.
“It’s good to have though, just kind of a backup,” Shane Witsell said.
“I don’t know if I feel safer, but there’s a way to, you know, if something happens, there may be a way for it to be caught,” Fred Cerouti said.
The sheriff’s office couldn’t give an end date for the pilot program, but they said it wasn’t costing taxpayers any money because the plate readers are technically on loan.