ISP rolls out license plate readers in effort to curb spike in Chicago expressway shootings

WGN Investigates

CHICAGO — As the sharp rise in shootings on Chicago area expressways continues, the Illinois State Police is rolling out new cameras designed to capture license plate numbers and help investigators find suspects who engage in high-speed gunfire.

The ISP will install 300 license plate readers along local expressways over the next 12 months, Maj. Matthew Gainer said Thursday. A $12.5 million grant, secured as part of the Tamara Clayton Expressway Camera Act, will pay for the cameras and their installation.

The law was named after Tamara Clayton, a postal worker who was fatally shot on Interstate 57 near Cicero as she was driving to work in February 2019.

“The idea behind the automated license plate readers is two-fold,” Gainer said. “They will assist our Division of Patrol in responding to real-time incidents on the interstate, as well as help our Division of Criminal Investigations conduct follow-up on violent crimes that occur on the expressway system.”

Earlier this month, WGN Investigates reported that expressway shootings in the Chicago area skyrocketed in recent years, jumping from 52 in 2019 to 128 in 2020.

And the increase has shown no signs of stopping. As of Aug. 26, according to ISP, 159 shootings have occurred on local highways. The vast majority of expressway shooting cases do not end in an arrest.

Gainer said a major challenge faced by investigators is a general lack of witnesses. The plate readers, he said, will give police another angle to pursue as they work to close cases.

“We don’t have people sitting on their porches, we don’t have Ring doorbells, we don’t have neighborhoods we can canvass,” Gainer said. “So what the license plate readers will give us, it’ll give our investigators a better starting point on who is on the interstate at the time the incident happened, who we can contact that may have been a victim, a witness and a defendant.”

Police officials say the readers are designed only to record a vehicle’s license plates, not the driver or any other occupants of a vehicle, and that the data captured will be stored for only 90 days unless it is used in a criminal case.

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