Last week, Mt. Juliet’s new law enforcement program, Guardian Shield, demonstrated once more how its value on the streets is worth the taxpayer dollars spent to institute it.

Guardian Shield led officers to intercept another suspect driving a stolen car on Thursday. At about 1 p.m., a black Ford Escape that had already been placed on a vehicle hotlist by Lebanon Police popped up on the new system. MJPD was alerted to it as it headed west on Lebanon Road and turned south onto Mt. Juliet Road.

Officers were quickly dispatched after the vehicle, but as police are often well distributed along Mt. Juliet Road due to the police station located there, suspects were scarcely able to make it to Old Lebanon Dirt Road. The SUV pulled into the Valley Center parking lot where it parked, and suspects abandoned it. Police quickly swept in and apprehended both suspects — 34-year-old Michael Cousino and 36-year-old Julia Ash.

Cousino hailed from Watertown, but Ash came from Lebanon where the SUV was originally reported stolen on Feb. 28, 2020. Cousino was charged with evading arrest, theft of property and driving without a license. Ash was similarly charged with both theft of property and evading arrest. Both were booked at Wilson County Jail.

Guardian Shield enabled law enforcement to catch Cousino and Ash because the Ford Escape was on a vehicle hotlist, which meant that its license plate had been associated with a crime. The new program tagged the vehicle as it navigated Mt. Juliet due to at least one automated license plate reader (ALPR) placed at the intersection of Lebanon Road and Mt. Juliet.

As of January this year, MJPD contracted Rekor Systems Inc., a public safety-focused tech firm focused on AI applications, to install and operate a network of these ALPRs all over the city. The Edge and Watchman vehicle recognition system, as Rekor calls it, relies on artificial intelligence to recognize any license plate that has been placed on a running hotlist shared by law enforcement entities across multiple cities, counties and states.

As cars move at high speed, ALPRs act as intelligent cameras that focus on the license plate of each vehicle, recognizing any that have been hotlisted in the split second during which the vehicle crosses its line of sight. It not only recognizes the plate but also alerts MJPD to the location and time at which the vehicle was spotted, pulling up hotlist information on the car automatically.

“It is then up to us,” Capt. Tyler Chandler said, “to run the tag through a database to obtain the detailed information and personal data associated with the tag hit.”

This is only the latest instance in which the $89,000-per-year system has proven its worth to the city. It first made headlines in late December 2019 before MJPD had even adopted the system when one of its test units led police to arrest a shooter who had driven to Mt. Juliet from Franklin.

Gabriel Jordan fled east from Cool Springs on Dec. 21 as Franklin police characterized him as armed and dangerous, listing his car. The ALPR that tagged his vehicle was the only test unit Rekor Systems had in the city, and it had already been in competition with test units from other contractors as MJPD weighed its options to determine which system to formally adopt.

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