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'Ring Of Steel' Camera System Captures Every License Plate In Freeport

FREEPORT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- The Long Island village of Freeport has broken new ground in beefing up protection with a proverbial ring of steel.

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, Freeport has some of the island's busiest crossroads – such as Sunrise Highway and Merrick Road – and now it is completely surrounding its perimeter with a network of license plate readers to keep criminals out.

Every single car passing through the central corridor in Freeport is scanned.

Freeport has unveiled 27 mounted license plate readers that encircle the perimeter of the 4.3-square-mile village at nearly every entrance. They automatically cross-reference with state, federal and Department of Motor Vehicles databases.

Alerts for warrants, stolen cars, and suspected getaway cars all sound at a new command center that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Patrol cars are at the ready to nab offenders.

At a news conference Wednesday, Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy called the scanners a "game-changer for law enforcement."

"The alerts are generated when a license plate produces a hit, and it also includes the GPS coordinates of the location of that vehicle," Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy told reporters, including WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs.

Kennedy said he was inspired by the so-called "Ring of Steel" in Lower Manhattan. He said Operation Safe Streets, costing $600,000, is a cost-effective turning point for suburban policing.

"If you were to put a police officer at every intersection to watch for criminals who are entering or departing, it would be very expensive," Kennedy said.

Police now have eyes on up to 2,000 cars per minute – averaging 155,000 cars per day.

"Today alone, we have had 50 hits in the first three hours," Kennedy said.

The cars spotted by the system were wanted in abductions, hit-and-runs and robberies. In the first two weeks of the program, 280 cars were impounded and 1,000 summonses were written.

"We believe it will be a deterrent to criminals to avoid the confines of the village of Freeport," said Freeport Assistant Police Chief Raymond Horton.

But at a local gas station, reaction to the program was mixed.

"It's kind of an invasion of privacy," one man said.

"I think it's excellent -- the more the merrier," another said.

"Anything to help make us safer," a third said.

"If I'm a law-abiding citizen, how does that hurt me?" one man told WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs. "If you're doing something wrong, then you deserve to get punished.

Jason Starr of the New York Civil Liberties Union worries the system casts a wide net over "the vast majority of people engaging in personal legal activity," calling a such a camera system in such a prominent place a "large-scale intrusion"

But village officials said law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about.

"This is here to protect the residents," Kennedy said. "It's here to prevent crime in the future."

In just three weeks, nearly 5 million license plates have been scanned. The vast majority will have their data deleted, but if there is an alert, law enforcement said it is a game change in crime fighting – and even tracking the movement of suspected terrorists.

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