‘Too much crime’: Gastonia police to start live monitoring of license plate readers

GASTONIA, N.C. — Gastonia police are about to implement a new tool to let officers keep watch for wanted criminals in real-time.

The Gastonia Police Department got a grant to launch live monitoring of license plate readers in the city, putting them in league with Charlotte and only three other departments in the state.

Channel 9′s Ken Lemon spoke with the police chief about the system, and some drivers who have serious questions about it.

Many of those drivers along Remount Road have no idea they’re passing one of nine license plate readers in Gastonia. But now, the city wants to add 12 more readers.

When the system triggers a flagged license plate, officers get an alert on their cell phones -- now, the police department is adding eyeballs behind the cameras, people who watch and respond immediately.

It’s a smaller version of a system that’s used by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. Trained officers monitor the feeds and watch in real-time when a vehicle associated with a crime or missing person triggers an alert.

“It’s unlimited on the types of technology out there that’s going to help us fight crime better,” said Gastonia Police Chief Trent Conard.

Conard says it’ll make a big difference. Last year, the nine cameras helped in 122 cases -- 55 of them were solved, including seven missing person cases.

Some neighborhoods are already using security cameras. Police plan to use those, and the department recently asked residents to voluntarily give access to their home security cameras.

“We are going to be able to tie into video feeds [from] security cameras,” Conard said.

But with more surveillance comes skepticism from some neighbors.

“I don’t like that at all,” Tom Kelso told Lemon. “The government is too much into my business. I just think it’s a waste of money.”

Christy Deese said she has family members who were victims of crime, and she loves the idea of what the city calls a real-time crime center.

“There’s too much crime going on and a lot of people getting away with it,” Deese said. “The city needs more monitoring.”

Conard said the data won’t be shared with a third-party, and it’ll be deleted after 30 days unless it’s part of an ongoing criminal case.

“If you’re not out here committing crimes, then your information is never even going to be looked at,” Conard told Lemon.

With a fresh grant of a million dollars, the department is in the early stages of planning and currently taking bids from contractors who want to build the real-time center. The chief said it will be the only one in the state that’s west of Charlotte.

(WATCH >> 9 Investigates: Who sees the data from license plate readers)