Colorado town installs high-tech cameras to nab car thieves, but cops lack manpower to pursue suspects

The high-tech cameras in Lakewood captured hundreds of stolen cars over a matter of months

The city of Lakewood, Colorado, unveiled high-tech cameras on busy intersections that can read license plates and detect stolen cars. Police, however, can’t pursue suspects because they lack the manpower. 

"We don't have the personnel to go to try to find those cars or if we do, we are so far behind we don't know where that vehicle is now," Lakewood Police Commander Mike Greenwell told CBS Colorado. 

High-tech license plate reader cameras in Lakewood, which is located right outside Denver, captured 500 instances of stolen vehicles between July and September of this year alone. 

"Five hundred stolen cars we were not able to go after because Denver or Lakewood doesn't have the personnel to do that right now," said Greenwell.

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High-tech license plate reader cameras in Lakewood captured 500 instances of stolen vehicles between July and September of this year.

High-tech license plate reader cameras in Lakewood captured 500 instances of stolen vehicles between July and September of this year. (Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images)

"Most agencies these days cannot do that because they don't have the personnel to go chase those license plates down," he added.

The police commander said the technology is best used when an officer is stationed a block or so away from a busy intersection, but his department is too busy with higher-priority calls and crimes to deploy manpower to patrol for stolen vehicles.

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"Great technology that we can't use because we don't have the people to do it," he said.

Lakewood, Colorado, Police Department vehicles

Lakewood, Colorado, Police Department vehicles (Lakewood Police Department Facebook)

"We installed the technology before we didn't have the manpower," he said. "While this does not sit well with me as the commander of the auto theft task force, recovering stolen vehicles and arresting those who steal cars is my job."

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A law enforcement license plate reader camera is mounted on a pole in Orinda, California, Jan. 22, 2022.

A law enforcement license plate reader camera is mounted on a pole in Orinda, California, Jan. 22, 2022. (Gado/Getty Images)

Staffing issues have plagued police departments across the country over the last couple of years, with many police leaders pointing to the anti-police sentiment that swept the nation in 2020. 

The Chicago Police Department reported the lowest number of employees in recent history at the end of March, for example. The Seattle Police Department reached a 30-year staffing low this year. Philadelphia reported this summer it is short more than 1,000 officers. 

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"We see law enforcement officers leave our profession at a rate we've never seen before," National Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick Yoes said at the Faith & Blue conference in Washington, D.C., over the summer. "Our profession is dependent on the best and brightest stepping up and taking this job. And because of the actions, and because of the turmoil that has happened in the last two years, we have a crisis right now in manpower."