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CHAMPAIGN — Automated license-plate readers could potentially be in use in Champaign and Urbana by the end of the year to help police fight escalating gun violence.

The Champaign City Council endorsed leasing and launching the new technology at a study session Tuesday, but approval of a contract won’t happen until an upcoming council session expected to take place in November.

The Urbana City Council on Monday was asked to approve a budget amendment to go ahead with the plate readers, but aldermen opted to delay action until they see a final policy on how they will be used.

Automated license-plate readers, which can be placed in stationary locations such as traffic lights, exit ramps and street poles or attached to squad cars, are high-speed cameras that can quickly take photos of plates with a specific time and date, according to Atlanta-based Flock Safety, the company that would act as contractor for both cities.

Champaign and Urbana officials said they’re looking at placing the automated readers in stationary strategic locations where they’re likely to do the most good as both cities deal with increases in violent crime.

In Champaign, there have been more than 200 confirmed reports of shots fired and 12 people who have died of gunshot wounds as of Sept. 30.

For all of 2020, there were 189 confirmed shooting incidents, while in 2019, there were 100.

In Urbana, there have been 88 reports of shots fired and seven fatal shootings as of Sept. 30.

There were 53 confirmed shooting events in Urbana in 2020 and 33 in 2019, according to information presented to the city council last month.

Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin said the use of automated license-plate readers would be an important first step in an investigation, because witnesses and victims are often either unable to provide identifying information about a vehicle used in a shooting or unwilling to provide it to police.

“To me, it’s the most cost-effective, least-invasive tool we have at our disposal right now,” she said.

City Administrator Carol Mitten said Urbana staff would like to install a minimum of 20 automated license-plate readers by the end of the year, if the council approves.

Flock would charge Urbana the same price it would charge Champaign — $2,500 for the use of each reader plus a $250-per-unit installation charge.

Flock Safety is already under contract with the Decatur and Rantoul police departments for automated license-plate readers, according to Champaign officials.

Champaign’s city administration has recommended signing a two-year lease agreement with Flock Safety to implement and install 36 fixed-mount automated license-plate readers for $99,000 the first year (including the installation fee) and $90,000 the second year.

Preliminary deployment plans call for placing Champaign’s automated license-plate readers on arterial streets and routes most likely to be traveled by people committing gun violence.

The Champaign council also endorsed an option to add gunshot-detection technology, which Flock Safety offered for 1.3 square miles of coverage for one year without additional charge.

“When a gunshot occurs, the acoustic sensors pick up the sound,” a memo to the council said. “Artificial-intelligence algorithms are then utilized to authenticate the sound as that of an actual gunshot. If/when an actual gunshot occurs, the same acoustic sensors use the process of triangulation to identify the precise location within one meter of the gunshot(s).”

That information is relayed to officers signed onto the automated license-plate reader system at the time and can also be relayed to front-desk staff or METCAD, the city council was told.

In addition to security cameras already in use in Champaign for public safety, Champaign City Manager Dorothy David has authorized the purchase of five more security cameras for $17,740 for monitoring city-owned parking lots and the purchase of a mobile video trailer for $34,291 that police can deploy for monitoring the safety of large community events or to unexpected incidents threatening public safety.

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