Detroit Considers Using License Plate Recognition

Starting June 1, Detroit parking officials hope to have another piece of equipment to help nab those with overdue parking tickets.

It's a camera system that scans the license plate, immediately alerting the parking officer if you have six or more outstanding tickets. If so, you'll get the boot -- a hulking piece of steel clamped to the wheel.

But fear not.

Anyone with six or more unpaid tickets has until May 31 to pay up and avoid penalties of up to $50 per ticket.

Now, the Municipal Parking Department can boot any vehicle with excessive parking violations by running its license plate, but it can only manually check the records of about 100 cars per day, said Ronald Ruffin, the department's director.

"We manually key in license plate numbers" and "our computer system will tell us if" there is an excess of unpaid tickets, Ruffin said.

With the new system, each department vehicle would be able to scan 1,000 plates per hour. Putting the new system into place is contingent on the funding, which still must be approved later this month in the city's budget.

Ruffin said he hopes to have at least three cars equipped with the system, which costs $75,000 to $100,000 per unit, upon its launch. Ruffin said he was unaware of the technical aspects of how the system works; the department is discussing the project with a manufacturing company, but Ruffin did not release the name because a deal has not been signed yet.

Heather Shuryan, 20, said she will be keeping an eye out for the new cameras. Shuryan of Wyandotte, a sophomore at Wayne State University, said she has two outstanding violations from parking near the school in late March. She owes $100 and said she is concerned the scanning technology will put her in jeopardy if she receives more tickets.

Most tickets carry a $30 fine, and have a $20 late penalty after 30 days. If a ticket is still not paid after another 30 days, the department files a case with the 36th District Court, which charges another $30 to the vehicle owner.

The Parking Violations Bureau estimates that about 40,000 people risk having their vehicle booted.

The owners may live elsewhere, but committed their violations in Detroit, and many haven't paid their fines for up to two years, Ruffin said.

The department can boot all vehicles parked on public property in Detroit, and must double check owner and address information before booting a vehicle, in addition to waiting more than a month after final warning notices have been sent to owners.

Ruffin said the department has had trouble identifying scofflaws because of a complicated system that requires the city to contact the Michigan Secretary of State to obtain information on license plates, which can take up to six months.

Under the new system, the department would have a 24-hour turnaround on identification checks from the Secretary of State.

In another effort, the department will extend booting hours to evenings and weekends, and begin notifying credit bureaus about scofflaws, Ruffin said.

"It costs the city an excess of $10 million" for ticketing, sending notices, collecting payments and booting, he said.

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