Terrorism, both domestic and international, has become the bane of modern life in the United States. Just last month, the Center for Strategic & International Studies issued a brief saying that terrorism would become worse in the US in the coming year. This past February, the New York Times reported that the threat of domestic terrorism has outpaced that of Islamic extremism. As such, it is a mistake to underestimate the dangers posed by homegrown terrorists. And just last week, police in Western Pennsylvania found out just how real that danger can be when PlateSmart Technologies’ automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) helped them stop a domestic terrorist.
According to TribLive.com, Kurt James Cofano was seen on social media making imminent threats to “blow up” the Treasury Department in Harrisburg, Pa., before attacking CIA headquarters in Washington, D.C. and getting “gunned down.” News website Wonkette reported that on 31 May, he made threats on YouTube against Black Lives Matters protesters in Pittsburgh. In response, the Whitehall Borough (Pa.) Police Department issued a be-on-the-lookout (BOLO) bulletin for lone-wolf terrorist, Cofano’s Mercedes-Benz. On 9 June, the PlateSmart ALPR/vehicle recognition system alerted the Mt. Lebanon (Pa.) Police Department (MLPD) of Cofano’s vehicle and location. Authorities made a traffic stop and during Cofano’s arrest, the MLPD found 30 improvised bombs in his vehicle along with numerous weapons, homemade detonators and chemicals used in making explosives.
PlateSmart Founder and CEO, John Chigos — an acknowledged industry expert who established PlateSmart in the early 2000s in response to the Oklahoma City bombing as well as the 9/11 attacks and has been a leading proponent of the use of ALPR to prevent crime and terrorism — said Cofano is nothing more than a domestic terrorist and his apprehension potentially averted the deaths of countless innocent lives, regardless of political agendas.
“The best law enforcement technology is the kind that prevents crime proactively, because it keeps officers and citizens alike safe,” he said. “And that’s the whole reason I started PlateSmart. Stopping Cofano from detonating a single bomb, much less the 30 he was carrying, or shooting a single individual undoubtedly validates the technology.”
Lone-wolf terrorists — domestic or otherwise — are particularly difficult to stop in advance because of their ability to stay under the radar. However, it is when planning an attack that they become vulnerable. In Cofano’s case, he posted his intentions to social media. But, according to Chigos, ALPR and vehicle recognition in addition to other intelligence is another tool in the law enforcement arsenal that can assist in the prevention of terrorist attacks and criminal activities.
“Any terrorist has to pick a site to attack,” he said. “Most don’t come right out and say, ‘I’m going here,’ like Cofano did. Instead, they often ‘case’ the potential target by circling it in a vehicle or parking nearby for extended periods of time. These behaviours stick out and they are something our technology can easily identify and alert law enforcement and augment other intelligence they may have gathered.”
Privacy advocates have long argued that technology like ALPR is itself dangerous because it has the potential to violate individual privacy. However, Chigos said that the clear efficacy of the technology in saving lives must be considered when making such arguments.
“Fortunately, we will never know how many lives the Mt. Lebanon Police Department saved by using our technology,” he said. “Whether it was one or 1000, what’s important is that the technology clearly stopped another senseless tragedy from occurring. The life-saving nature of ALPR and vehicle recognition can no longer be denied.”
The Mt. Lebanon Police Department is one of more than 100 law enforcement clients of security systems integrator Plate Capture Solutions, Inc. (PCS). PCS recently chose PlateSmart ARES ALPR and vehicle recognition to replace Rekor for those clients.
An AI-based enterprise-grade ALPR and vehicle recognition solution, PlateSmart ARES is a full suite of tools for administration, alerting, quick research and powerful AI-driven analytics. It is a software-only, camera-agnostic solution that can integrate with virtually any existing security infrastructure. Beyond its popularity with law enforcement agencies from the federal level on down, PlateSmart ARES is also a major provider of perimeter security solutions to large organisations throughout the US and around the world.