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License to Reveal

The American Civil Liberties Union has warned that automatic license plate readers can be a threat to privacy, depending on how agencies use the data. PlateSmart CEO John Chigos says his company is in the clear on that because, “We never touch the data. We only are a conduit.”

In the midst of building and selling companies and helping other businesses raise venture capital, serial entrepreneur John Chigos felt a pull to do something more important. “I wanted to be able to say I did something nice with my life instead of doing all these little deals that really didn’t matter whether I did them or someone else,” he says. “I want to be able to say I gave something back to society.”

Chigos thinks he found the right mix in his latest venture — a software company that uses vehicle license plate recognition technology to help law enforcement agencies locate vehicles listed on national, state and local criminal databases.

Linked with a camera, the software reads license plate numbers and determines if the vehicle has been reported stolen or is owned by someone wanted by police. If the software finds a match, it signals the officer within milliseconds, rather than the minute or more it might take an officer to type a plate number into a patrol car computer.

“One of my goals is to make sure an officer never has to take his eyes off of the person he has stopped,” he says. “That’s a danger point for him.”

The software, called PlateSmart, has won contracts from law enforcement agencies in Clearwater and Port Richey. The software is also being used at the University of Miami, where it tracks each car driven on campus. The Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS) became a customer in March. Chigos sees growth potential by linking the software to cameras posted at border crossings, ports, hospitals, schools and major events like political conventions.

The Oldsmar company employs 30, including engineers, mathematicians, video engineers and former law enforcement officers. Within six months, Chigos expects to add 25 jobs and by the end of 2014, he projects business will triple. “We now have the product I’ve always dreamed of,” he says.