Installed as a counterterrorism measure in 2013, license plate readers over the exits and entrances of Freehold Raceway Mall have helped township police mostly nab a slew of petty crooks and scofflaws over the years.

The fixed-site scanners, which are not hard to spot, take a photo of each car's license plate as it passes. If the plate comes up as a "hit" — indicating that the driver is wanted or on a watch list — law enforcement is notified. The scanners are tied into the National Crime Information Center.

But the database can also be used to further investigations of criminal activity in and around the mall.

According to Freehold Township Police L. Dean Smith, the scanners are mostly used to help solve cases involving shoplifting, hit-and-runs, stolen cars and assaults on mall property.

"For solving crimes, it's actually come in quite handy," Smith said. "A lot more than we thought it was going to be."

But in order for the scanners to be effective in each case, police need to know what they're looking for. Even a partial plate description, either from a victim or witness, can be enough to go on.

"Once I find it in the system, I've got a full plate because I've got a picture of it," Smith said.

The devices were originally installed because the mall was considered a possible terrorist target, and the scanners have come up with "one or two" hits on the terrorist watch list, according to Smith.

Separate from the eye-in-the-sky scanners, on-site police officers are also equipped with automatic readers in their vehicles.

Motor vehicle violations, such as an expired registration, are ticketed through the cop car scanners, Smith noted. Scanners over the exits and entrances are not used for motor-vehicle enforcement.

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