Marfa Police Department to position license plate scanner at 4-way stop

MARFA — The Marfa Police Department plans to use money acquired through Operation Stonegarden to purchase an automated license plate reader it will position at Marfa’s four-way stop, facing south.

Marfa City Council voted unanimously last week to add a policy to the Marfa Police Department Policies and Procedures Manual allowing the department to move forward with purchasing the license plate reader once the grant money is allocated. At the same meeting, Council voted to approve the application for Stonegarden funds, which will also go towards buying a new police vehicle and covering gas expenses for the department.

Operation Stonegarden is a Department of Homeland Security program with the stated mission of enhancing cooperation between Border Patrol and local agencies. As the funds exist, essentially, to aid Border Patrol, the grant money can only be used for purposes that fall within those initiative guidelines.

Marfa Police Chief Gilbert Carillo explained to The Big Bend Sentinel that because Marfa is a border community, the license plate reader falls within the prescribed guidelines.

“It’s still considered border security because Marfa is so close to the border,” said Carillo. “Usually, stolen vehicles always end up in Mexico, so that’s the reason why they want to track those before they get to the border.”

There is already an automated license plate reader on U.S. 67 south of the Border Patrol station, outside city limits, also facing south — that reader is operated and maintained by Presidio County and Border Patrol, said Carillo.

At the City Council meeting, Carillo said that the license plate reader would be used to hasten response time to reported stolen vehicles.

“Within five seconds it’ll be on the system,” he said. “If we get a stolen vehicle from Porters, by the time they get to the four-way it might already be in the system.”

Carillo also clarified to council members that the reader will be stationed on a trailer, also funded by Operation Stonegarden, so will be movable. 

License plate readers automatically take photos of the license plates of cars that come into view, and store those photos in a database. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s fact sheet touting the technology, the technology “captures images of license plates and allows law enforcement agencies to identify and compare plates against those of cars driven by people suspected of being involved in illegal activities.”

Carillo told The Sentinel the department is likely three to four months away from actually acquiring the automated reader.