Sam Kay

The Oxford Police Department (OPD) has a new way to collect on outstanding parking tickets with the introduction of the automatic license plate recognition system, the Mobile Plate Hunter-900 (MPH-900).

OPD Lt. Bob Holzworth said the department plans to use the system mainly to collect unpaid parking citations. As of the end of March, there were 14,276 unpaid parking citations in Oxford at a debt of $401,560 to the city.

With so many unpaid citations, Holzworth is confident that the $20,000 system will pay for itself.

Police will be looking for vehicles that are “scofflaws,” meaning they have two or more unpaid parking citations more than 15 days old. According to Holzworth, approximately 3,800 vehicles meet this definition in Oxford.

“This will be a great tool for finding those vehicles,” Holzworth said.

According to its manufacturer, ELSAG North America, the MPH-900 is capable of scanning up to 3,600 license plates per minute, and can read the plates of vehicles traveling in excess of 75 miles per hour in any weather condition at any time of day.

Lucy Sheehan, vice president of federal operation for ELSAG, said the system uses advanced cameras and propriety software to immediately digitize a license plate number, record a timestamp and GPS coordinates, and run the number through a database that can identify vehicles. The system can be used to find vehicles that are stolen, have outstanding parking tickets or warrants or are connected with AMBER alerts.

The system is also capable of storing images and information for later analysis.

OPD has not yet decided exactly how long the record of a scan will be kept, but Holzworth said that it would likely be for at least six months.

Some Miami students are skeptical about the new system, including first-year Corry Holliday.

“I can see its potential benefits, but I can also see it being totally abused,” Holliday said. “I’m following the law, I’m not bothering them, why should they know that I drove by them at that moment?”

Holliday also questioned the necessity of the new technology.

“I’d say the police have been doing a pretty good job so far,” Holliday said. “They need to be able to keep up with criminals without putting law-abiding citizen’s liberties at risk.”

Holzworth said the system will not pose a threat to privacy.

“My vehicles will be parked around town and will be photographed as well,” Holzworth said. “I am not bothered by that on a personal level, and on a professional level I believe it will be a good tool … I’d be surprised if this violates anyone’s privacy.”

Kelly Church, a graduate student of political science, said the system will be a valuable tool for “finding elusive people,” but she was still wary.

“It’s certainly creepy, with possible negative consequences,” Church said.