CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — New police technologies being installed in Champaign are already proving to be a successful asset, Champaign Police said on Thursday.

Officials said automated license plate readers (ALPR) have had a presence in the community since May of 2022 after they were approved by the City Council the previous December. Installation of 46 units took place throughout the remainder of 2022 and ended with the final one being installed last month. The final installation starts a two-year contract the city has with ALPR provider Flock Group, Inc.

“It’s an investigative tool. It doesn’t solve the whole crime, it doesn’t piece it all together. It’s just one piece of the puzzle,” Lt. Ben Newell with Champaign Police said.

He added that they’ve proved to be an “exceptional” tool.

The ALPRs already in place proved to be highly effective tools in addressing felony crime, officials said, with 54 investigations being aided by these units. Some of these investigations resulted in arrests for the following crimes:

In addition to these crimes, ALPRs aided in the arrest of another person for arson, helped recover 17 stolen vehicles and helped officers locate an endangered missing person. Nearly a quarter of the crimes ALPRs helped to solve included illegally possessed guns.

Tom Bruno with Champaign City Council said he wasn’t sure about the idea of having cameras in town at first. But, he changed his mind when he knew there needed to be more done to reduce violence.

“The selling point is maybe we will catch some bad guys and get them off the street,” he said.

Newell said the readers capture pictures of vehicles as they’re driving past and police get an alert if it’s a vehicle of interest in their database.

Deb Feinen, Champaign’s mayor, supports them.

“We want to make sure that the people who are perpetrating the crimes are caught and held accountable,” Feinen said.

“Automated License Plate Readers are a powerful tool to help solve crime, but we also need witnesses and evidence to be effective,” said Chief of Police Timothy T. Tyler. “Regardless of the technology our officers use, Champaign Police always seek assistance from our community members to investigate the facts and hold criminals responsible for their actions.”

ALPRs aren’t the only pieces of technology police are using to curb crime. They’re just starting to introduce Raven gunshot detection technology as well.

“It’s a device that listens specifically for gunshots,” Newell said.

Then, the system notifies Champaign Police and officers go to that area to investigate.

Champaign Police started installing 33 of these on Monday in a 1.3 square mile area bordered by Bloomington Road on the north, Mattis Avenue on the west, Bradley Avenue on the
south, and Prospect Avenue on the east.

Feinen knows there’s not just one answer to solving crime.

“We have a social services piece, we have a law enforcement piece, we have a technology piece,” she added.

Bruno knows that too.

“I don’t know which of the techniques will be most impactful, but we need to try them all,” he said.

The mayor wants to do whatever it takes to keep the community safe. She said that solving crime helps everyone.

To promote transparency regarding both ALPRs and gunshot detectors, Champaign Police started two websites that include detained information on how they work, Champaign Police policies regarding their approved use and answers to frequently ansked questions.

Parkland College is adding LPRs to its campus as well.

Troy Daniels, the school’s police chief, emailed students on Thursday. He said they just installed five cameras on campus last week after talking about it and working with the Flock company for about a year.