The Darien Police Commission approved a request to fund the purchase of a License Plate Reader [LPR] for the police department during the commission's regular meeting Tuesday.

An LPR unit consists of two infrared cameras and a processing unit, which allows officers to scan images of license plates as they pass by.

"It takes a picture of the license plate and vehicle and stores it in memory," said Darien Police Capt. Fred Komm. "It's a scanner. There's one on either side of the trunk -- on the passenger's side and the driver's side."

The unit can read about 1,100 license plates per minute, according to Stephanie Battista, the assistant director of marketing and communication at ELSAG, the company from which the department has borrowed the unit. It has the capability of scanning parked and moving vehicles from a range of about 16 to 20 feet, she said.

"It's like at the grocery store," Komm said. "Here you're scanning a registration plate, to see if there are any hits on it. It tells you whether the registration has been canceled because of lack of insurance or other reasons."

The department has been using one of the devices since Thursday, June 3, Komm said.

"It's been on loan from [ELSAG], and we're obviously very impressed with it. So we're going to buy one and return the loaner," Komm said Monday.

As of this week, the "loaner" has scanned 104,406 license plates; of those, 1,312 have returned "hits," meaning they signaled a violation, according to Komm. The hits included one stolen car, five stolen license plates, and 1,252 suspended or revoked registrations. There were also 99 incidents that resulted in "booting" cars, Komm said.

"Since June 3, I would say we've made at least 10 arrests per week," Komm said. "Maybe even more than that, but my conservative estimate would be about 10."

In New Britain, the police department collected $24,000 worth of unpaid parking fines using a single LPR unit during four four-hour shifts, Battista said.

"During that time, they also recovered three stolen vehicles, and made 123 suspended and revoked [license] arrests," she said.

The cost of the LPR costs about $15,000, according to Komm, and the funds will be taken from the false-alarm account. The high sticker price means the department will only purchase one for now, Komm said.

The units bring money into the department, but not for every "hit," he said.

"The only way it brings in money to the town would be through the boot. We don't get the money for motor-vehicle violations. For some violations, the town gets like 10 percent, but those are mainly moving violations. The state gets the money for these violations," Komm said. "Some people may think the traffic money comes back to the town but it doesn't."

While the LPR most likely won't pay for itself by detecting violations, Komm said it is a big asset to the department.

"It's valuable in terms of being alerted to stolen cars and even more," he said. And with the State planning to discontinue windshield registration stickers, the LPR will provide the department with a dependable way to enforce vehicle registration, Komm said.

This August, the State will discontinue registration decals as part of a law that is expected to save the State more than $1 million a year.

Technological changes have made the stickers, in use for more than 70 years on both license plates and windshields, obsolete, as police are now able to check the validity of a registration plate by computer inside patrol cars, according to Department of Motor Vehicle Commissioner Bob Ward.

"We determined they are somewhat anachronistic," Ward said of the stickers. "Before it would take a long time to get the information to every police car but now they are able to verify all that information on site."

Under the new law, the state will take the additional step of automatically mailing new registration documents to drivers along with a tear off pay stub, cutting the by-mail registration process to a single step and saving $400,000 annually, Ward said.

Additionally the DMV plans to establish a database within a few months allowing drivers to check if their registration has expired through a database on the Department of Motor Vehicle website to provide an additional method to track your vehicle's status, Ward said.

The LPR's value to the department will increase when this law takes effect, Komm said.

"With most of the unregistered violations in the past, you had the sticker on the plate. You have a color and you know, without looking too closely, whether it's expired," he said. "But now we're not going to have any of that. The only way we're going to know if it's unregistered is by LPR or if they happen to stop the vehicle on an unrelated matter ... like going through a red light or a stop sign."

But the LPR purchase won't solve this problem completely, he said.

"We're only going to have one, because of the cost," Komm said.

Martin Cassidy contributed to this report.