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New tech system leads immediately to LPD arrests

Laurens Police arrest Charles Caleb Howard after a six-hour manhunt.

A new license plate reading system had barely been plugged when Laurens Police began using the information provided to them to make arrests.

The Flock License Automated Plate Reading system, which currently consists of eight cameras within the Laurens city limits, led to three arrests ­ two for the alleged theft of vehicles and another involving an allegedly stolen license plate.

Literally from Day One, we’ve had hit after hit after hit,” Laurens Police Chief Keith Grounsell said of the new system. “In each case, we have apprehended someone because of the units we’ve installed. It’s the sort of technological advance that makes it like we have 1,000 additional officers in place, and it costs a fraction of that.”

So far, eight of 25 units have been installed at a cost of $3,000 each. The license plate readers photograph and read license plate numbers, comparing them to state and national databases to identify vehicles or people involved in criminal activity or other scenarios such as missing persons.

Charles Caleb Howard

The first arrest related to the new system involved a vehicle that was stolen in Laurens on March 30, a wreck, an escape and a six-hour manhunt that ended with the arrest of Charles Caleb Howard, 25, of Gray Court.

According to the LPD, the license plate readers identified the vehicle Howard was driving as stolen and a pursuit followed. Howard was apprehended and transported to the hospital with an injured arm, and then assaulted a police officer and escaped on foot.

With help from a SLED tracking helicopter, Howard was returned to custody six hours later after being tracked for over 8.5 miles.

The suspect had active felony warrants and was in a stolen vehicle, which is why he initially failed to stop for blue lights and resisted arrest,” the LPD said.

Dustin Simpson

On Sunday, the system detected another reported stolen vehicle and arrested Dustin Tyler Simpson, 26, of Fountain Inn, charging him with possession of a stolen vehicle, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and unlawful carrying a pistol.

On Monday, Bruce Howell, 59, of Clinton was arrested after the system identified a stolen vehicle but officers eventually determined the license plate was stolen. Following a pursuit that ended in a single-car wreck, Howell was charged with possession of stolen goods, DUI, failure to stop and simple possession of marijuana.

It’s not just the stolen vehicle, but in some of these cases like with meth distribution, these are people who are going to commit other crimes,” Grounsell said.

While the technology used by the Flock Automated License Plate Reader has been available for decades, it is gaining popularity among law enforcement after laws were changed to disallow its the abuse of civil rights.

Bruce Howell

It literally just captures a still image of the license plate that allows us to determine if the vehicle is stolen or if it’s involved somehow with a wanted person or a missing person or in a domestic violence case,” Grounsell said, recognizing critics of the system of have said it makes it too easy for police to track people who have done nothing wrong.

It’s not used for that – that’s not legal,” he said, adding that unused images are purged after a short period of time.

The LPD raised funds for the system by seeking donations from local businesses, who signed up to fund it for five years. Grounsell said he is hoping to find grants to help fund the program as well and expects it to expand to other law enforcement agencies in Laurens County. He said Presbyterian College’s campus police was the first in the county to employ a license plate reading system.

While the system has already proved its values in just a few days, Grounsell said it could be even more valuable and save lives, not just help recover property.

We can use it to find that kidnapped child or if there’s an Alzheimer’s patient who is driving around confused,” he said. “If we have a suspect’s vehicle we can put it in the system and it alerts us if it’s spotted by the system.”

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