Auto Theft Suspects Cornered in Hamilton

Automatic license plate reader alerts sheriff's deputy to stolen car.

Two suspected auto thieves were arrested Wednesday afternoon in Hamilton with the aid of an automatic license plate reader mounted in a Marin County Sheriffs deputy's patrol car, a sheriff's lieutenant said.

A deputy was heading south on Nave Drive, adjacent to Highway 101, at about 5:30 p.m. when the automatic license plate reader recognized a plate from a northbound car as being from a stolen vehicle, Lt. Scott Anderson said.

The deputy pulled a U-turn and pursued the 1998 Honda until it pulled into a Shell station across from the Hamilton Marketplace shopping center. The arrests, made without incident, were made with help from Novato police, Anderson said.

The Honda had been reported stolen Tuesday in Novato, he said. Some property was recovered that deputies believed was stolen as well, he added.

The driver was identified as Diego Armando Vasquez, 26, of Novato. He faces a felony auto theft charge and a misdemeanor of making an illegal key. The passenger was identified as Elena Brito Sanchez, 24, of San Rafael, who faces a charge of auto theft.

ALPR cameras mounted on a patrol car constantly scan for license plates as they come within view of the camera lens. One a plate is found, the software uses character recognition to translate the letters and numbers on a plate then compares them to several thousand plates in a vehicle database. An alert sounds if the string matches one in the list.

The license plates on the alert lists are typically those reported as stolen or associated with people with outstanding arrest warrants. The ALPR system costs about $10,000 per vehicle.

Police departments in Novato, Mill Valley and Tiburon have used the ALPR system as part of a larger effort by the Marin County Sheriff’s Department to implement the devices. Tiburon received widespread media attention when it installed an ALPR device on a stationary pole at the town limits so it could check every plate on two main thoroughfares.

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Craig Belfor December 20, 2012 at 02:58 PM
A great investment!
Anthony December 20, 2012 at 05:36 PM
When they first the ALPR on the cruiser in Novato I wasn't so sure if it was worth the $10,000. But after reading Patch and now many reports of stolen vehicles they have gotten, ths was a GREAT investment. Hopefully over the next 1-2 years as word gets out about the ALPR, auto thefts will drop here.


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