NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A controversial license plate reader (LPR) pilot program started by the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) has been in operation for about three months now, and the results have been impressive so far.

The pilot program began on March 6, consisting of 24 fixed cameras and 10 mobile units around the city.

According to MNPD, the LPR readers have helped police arrest 58 criminals, including 48 adults and 10 minors.

If you’ve driven around Nashville the last few months, chances are you’ve seen cameras either fixed to poles or perhaps set up near intersections on mobile trailers.

According to MNPD, in a 10-day period from May 7 to May 17, 3.5 million cars drove by these cameras.

The vast majority of drivers went about their business with zero problems. Of those 3.5 million plates, LPR cameras hit on a very tiny percentage of tags: 1,458 license plates that had been registered with the National Crime Information Center or NCIC.

These vehicles were entered as stolen cars, stolen plates, or vehicles to be on the lookout for.

“When we talk about the 58 arrests, we are talking about charges like aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, carjacking, motor vehicle theft. If your car gets stolen, you want everything possible to take place to get that car recovered. LPR technology helps us do that; our aviation assets are a bonus,” said Don Aaron, spokesperson for MNPD.

As part of the department’s Precision Policing Model to keep the community safe, MNPD is utilizing manpower with LPR technology and the department’s two new Air Bus H-125 helicopters, equipped with cameras and night vision.

According to aviation officers, the choppers have been in service for six months and they give police a distinct advantage in crime fighting while keeping people on the ground much safer.

The LPR pilot program expires in July. That’s when Metro police will present data to Metro Council for future consideration.

There are several examples of how the choppers and LPR cameras are working together to catch criminals.

For instance, on May 10, a Metro LPR camera alerted officers to a stolen Cadillac out of Mississippi. The driver was identified as 31-year-old Roderick Poindexter of Memphis. MNPD said he not only had warrants for drugs and weapons offenses, but he reportedly used a gun in an April armed carjacking in Southaven, Mississippi.

Officers on the ground tried to stop the Cadillac in a North Nashville parking lot near Charlotte Pike, but it took off onto I-40 West.

Instead of chasing the Cadillac, a police helicopter followed it from above.

Poindexter later pulled into a gas station on Highway 70 South. Thanks to guidance from the chopper, officers were able to box the Cadillac in.

“The big advantage is we can slow things down. We don’t have to chase cars with blue lights and sirens anymore, which is a great risk to public safety,” Metro Aviation Sgt. Henry Particelli said.

The chopper camera showed what happened next as the dangerous felon smashed police cars, backed up into one car, and drove forward into another car.

Eventually, Poindexter created enough space to slip away.

Once again, ground units fell back as the chopper patiently pursued the car into Cheatham and Williamson counties.

Finally, with the chopper following overhead and ground units being told exactly where Poindexter was, the wanted man surrendered in a felony take down on Sneed Road in Williamson County.

According to Particelli, the precision policing of LPRs finding criminals and helicopters helping to catch them in the safest way possible is a huge benefit for Nashville residents.

“Between the LPR system picking up cars we wouldn’t otherwise know are driving up and down the road stolen, getting the hit and getting us up the force multiplier, we will see things the patrol car cannot see. We will spot cars,” Particelli said.

Particelli noted that when the chopper is in the sky, the pilots can see LPR hits and almost immediately react to the notification, guiding ground units to the vehicle. The chopper can also keep residents and responding officers safe, especially if the suspect has a weapon.

“Absolutely, no question. We have a great advantage we have not had for years, and we are just now scratching the surface of what we are really capable of doing,” Particelli said.

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Metro police said the combo of LPR technology and helicopters helps the department catch criminals in a time when police officer employment is down across the country.

MNPD told News 2 the department is 137 officers below authorized strength of 1,608.

“However, that does not include the 70 police officer trainees from three classes now in the academy, and there will be four additional trainee classes to begin later in the year for a total of eight, a record in 2023,” Aaron added.