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Turlock, Calif., Installs License Plate Cameras to Curb Crime

Turlock Police are set to install license plate cameras on multiple intersections in the hopes of addressing an uptick in crime. Officials say the technology will be shared with the Stanislaus County Sherriff's Office.

(TNS) — Since well before back-to-back fatal shootings in downtown Turlock, plans have been in motion to employ technology to help solve crime in the city.

Chief Jason Hedden said the city by March will install license plate reader cameras (LPRs) at six intersections. The cameras not only record activity at the intersections but scan license plates to identify stolen or wanted vehicles that travel through them and instantaneously send alerts to officers.

Turlock police will use the same system as the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Office, so the two agencies can easily share information.

Hedden said LPRs will be at the intersection of West Monte Vista Avenue and Countryside Drive but a team is working to identify the five remaining intersections.

The LPR system costs $100,000 and was approved by the City Council last year, Hedden said. All that's left before their roll-out is a public meeting, where attendees can give input about the technology. It is expected to be held next month.

Hedden said LPRs in Modesto helped locate a suspect in a fatal hit-and-run in Turlock in October.

The technology might have been helpful in the investigations into two fatal shootings last weekend, both of which involved suspects who fled in vehicles.

Last weekend, three people were shot in the same area behind several Main Street bars.

Just after 2 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, 21-year-old Romeo Portillo was killed and a 20-year-old man injured in a shooting that police said involved two groups of people and more than one firearm.

Around the same time one day later, 31-year-old Robert Morgan was shot to death following a confrontation inside the Grand Cru. Morgan was a security guard at the bar but was off duty when some of his co-workers got into an altercation with several patrons and he stepped in to help. The altercation moved outdoors, where Morgan was shot by someone who got out of a dark sedan.

No suspects have been arrested in either case. Hedden said detectives are reviewing security footage and pursuing leads in the investigation.

Meanwhile, Grand Cru owner Jerry Powell agreed to close his business for two weeks to review internal processes and procedures to improve safety measures at his establishment.

Powell said Wednesday that he already has security cameras but will be adding three more and upgrading one to cover a large portion of the rear parking lot and alleyway.

He said he enforces a dress code — part of the requirements for his use and dance permits — and usually has eight security guards working, though the permits only require two.

Of the security guard who was killed, Powell said, "He was a good kid, always laughing. He was a great asset; he ran some events for us as well, he was a pretty hard worker."

Powell held a staff meeting Tuesday night and has made a counselor available for anyone struggling with Morgan's death.

Grand Cru security uses metal detector wands and searches purses of patrons, but Hedden said people still bring guns in their vehicles.

"It is both a blessing and a curse to have an attractive and vibrant downtown," the chief said. "People want to come here and enjoy themselves but also occasionally it brings in some bad actors."

Hedden said in addition to working with Powell, he has reported the incidents of violence last weekend to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which can impose fines and suspend or revoke alcohol licenses.

To address immediate safety concerns this weekend, Hedden said officers who normally end their shifts at 1 a.m. might be held over until after the bars close, which is said is a common practice on particularly busy nights downtown. He said he also reached out to the California Highway Patrol and the Sheriff's Office to provide extra patrols in the city when they are available.

Those agencies already have been working closely to shut down weekend sideshows, an event where another deadly shooting occurred just a few weeks ago. One New Year's Eve, three people were shot at a sideshow at Fulkerth and Tegner roads. One of them, a 20-year-old from Tracy, died.

Hedden said the groups that participate in the sideshows come from cities around the region like Stockton and Tracy. He said when they get pushed out of one city by law enforcement, they move on to the next.

Local agencies have been working to identify the events before they happen and let organizers know they could be held criminally liable, which he said has been successful in preventing some of them.

"This is something we take very seriously," Hedden said. "We are continuing to throw every available resource at tracking and holding those accountable who commit crime in our city."

©2023 The Modesto Bee, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.