SARASOTA (WWSB) - Drivers making their way in and out of Holmes Beach are officially scanned as they come and go now. New license plate readers have been installed on Manatee Avenue, East Bay Drive and the south end of the Island on Gulf Drive.
This is the first full week of use for the five new readers and already, the Chief of Police said they’re already stopping crime. A robotic voice filled Chief Bill Tokajer’s police car, letting him know that a camera had captured a ’medium priority alert.’
“They’re coming from different directions,” he showed on a computer. "This [car] is on Manatee Avenue, leaving the Island.”
The medium priority alert sounds often, sending a ping to every police unit that someone is driving with a suspended or revoked license or registration. Every once in a while, they get a “high priority alert.” Those are people like wanted criminals, sexual predators and stolen cars.
“Within three hours of having this system up and running, we had our first stolen vehicle that entered the Island,” said Chief Tokajer.
Because of the cameras, Holmes Beach Police knew exactly where to find them.
“We want to know if somebody is coming on the Island that shouldn’t be here," Chief Tokajer added. "If you’re stealing a car, you’re not driving on the Island to have dinner.”
It was $105,000 taxpayer dollars that the Chief said was well spent.
Some residents say the cameras weren’t necessary in a quiet town like this one, but for others, knowing they’re there already makes them feel safer.
“I would have to say it does,” said Shayne Coventry, who works in Holmes Beach. "Any way that can make our society safer is important to me. Anything that the cops can get, tech-wise to help us is a very important and valuable necessity.”
These cameras are going to make it a lot harder for criminals who are considered a ‘high priority alert’ to go undetected.
“[The cameras] are here to protect us,” added Coventry. “I think they’re here to help us and I think they’re here to make us safer.”
The Chief said they will also be used as an investigative tool.
“If we had a burglary today at 2 in the morning and we had nothing to go on, [what] we could do is, we could go to the system and say, who came on to the Island at 1 o’clock and who left between 1 and 3?" Chief Tokajer explained. "So that gives us an idea of the vehicles that came onto the Island.”
The $105,000 that the City paid covers the cost of the cameras and the software installed in each police car, but only for five years.
The Holmes Beach Police Chief said he’s already planning to renew when the five years expire.