Edenton could soon be seeing license plate readers on its streets, which will be installed as part of an upcoming trial that the town council recently approved.

The ELSAG Street Sentry, designed by Leonardo, is a solar-powered, pole-mounted license plate reader that can be deployed to a wide range of locations.

Edenton Police Chief Henry King brought the proposal before the town council during a special meeting on May 23. King said he had been in touch with Leonardo officials – who proposed a 30-day trial for Edenton to test out the plate readers.

King said that not only would the plate readers help create a safety net across town, they could also be purchased and deployed by local neighborhoods and homeowners associations, if they like what they see during Edenton’s trial.

“Homeowners associations can use them as well,” King said. “Let’s say Edenton Bay wanted to purchase one, they could install it and relay plate numbers to EPD, but only my department would see the names of the plate owners.”

King said he had not yet determined where the plate readers would be set up.

“We have two devices for 30 days and it is a win-win for the town because we won’t be losing anything,” King said. “If we want, we can lease them after the trial.”

King told the council that most crimes are committed in or with motor vehicles. In addition to a camera network and gunshot detection system in Edenton, the plate readers would be another tool in the police department’s arsenal.

Councilman Craig Miller asked if the plate readers are tamper proof.

“Unless folks are going to climb up onto the pole they are mounted on, that shouldn’t be a concern,” King responded.

Edenton Town Manager Corey Gooden noted that a lease option was a good alternative to the typical pushy salesman that might coerce the town into owning technology they may never use.

“If we find it is not a good fit for Edenton, if it costs thousands of dollars for something we do not use, we would just return the equipment in the way we would lease a vehicle,” Gooden told the council.

Chief King also said that the plate readers would be tied into the Department of Homeland Security’s national network, which can help identify stolen vehicles from out of state, vehicles with BOLO (be on the lookout) notices on them or human trafficking and domestic violence suspects.

Stolen cars running past the readers will automatically alert all officers and police department staff via cellphone.

Expired plates will also be detected, in case someone is late or forgot to renew their registration.

“It helps us with alibis as well,” King said. “If someone in Edenton says ‘I just came from New York,’ and we pull up license plate data from the Verrazano Bridge and there they are, then it checks out.”

Councilman Roger Coleman asked if license plate reader information goes straight to King’s department.

King said yes, but noted that there is a certain timeframe to use the data, which can be housed in the cloud until it expires.

In addition, King said that his counterparts on the Outer Banks, specifically in Duck, are pleased with the plate readers. A few years ago, the Duck Police Department set up two readers on N.C. 12 – in and out of town – to track every vehicle that travels through to Corolla or Southern Shores and to catch mostly stolen vehicles.

Councilman Sambo Dixon was enthused with the concept.

“It sounds like a great idea. Thank you Chief, for thinking strategically,” Dixon said. “I can’t see how this isn’t anything but a win-win for us.”

Councilman Hackney High made a motion to allow Chief King to initiate the plate readers’ trial. Miller offered a second. Without further discussion, the motion passed unanimously.

Other business conducted by council included:

• Council unanimously approved (Dixon motion, Councilman Elton Bond second) a renewal of the town’s insurance policy with Cigna after a presentation from Rand Williams of The Sorin Group. Williams cited specialty prescription drugs and the fallout of COVID-19 for spiraling insurance prices.

• Council unanimously approved (Miller motion, High second) a resolution to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the Edenton Lions Club on June 13.

• Committee meetings were held, with three items being passed forward to full council on June 14: moving public comment to the beginning of a meeting instead of the end, work sessions for the 2022-2023 fiscal year budget (also will be available online) and the proposed CG2 rider for solar customers.

Tyler Newman can be reached via email at tnewman@apgenc.com.

Thadd White can be reached via email at twhite@apgenc.com.