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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 15, 2007

Mobile Plate Hunter on the prowl

By Rachel Dutil

ALBANY COUNTY – Cameras monitoring public places have become commonplace in American society. They are found in shopping malls, convenience stores, gas stations, and even mounted atop police cruisers.

The Albany County Sheriff’s Department purchased such a device last summer, said Lieutenant Michael Monteleone. It is called the Mobile Plate Hunter 900.

The system is designed to recognize a series of numbers, Monteleone said.

Two digital cameras on the roof of a patrol car are connected to a laptop computer within the car. The cameras scan license-plate numbers and compare the numbers to data that is pre-loaded into the computer, he said. The data is generated by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, and indicates stolen, revoked, or suspended registrations, he said. It is updated on a daily basis.

The system can be programmed "for multi-state use," Monteleone said. The sheriff’s department has programmed only New York State information. There can be an increase in "faulty readings" with multi-state use, he said.

"The computer and cameras can instantly compare to the database," Monteleone said.

If a scanned plate number matches one in the database, the system alerts the police officer driving the car, Monteleone said. It is the officer’s responsibility to verify the information provided by the system through the patrol station, he said.

The device used by the Albany County Sheriff’s Department was purchased through a New York State grant as part of a pilot program, Monteleone said.

"I don’t think it cost the county anything," he said. Each unit retails for $21,000.

The Mobile Plate Hunter 900 is a product of Remington ELSAG Law Enforcement Systems, based in Madison, N.C. According to the website for the company, "The system alarms within a second of identifying a plate on the hotlist and can process hundreds of plates per minute. An image and GPS [Global Positioning System] coordinates of every plate scanned are stored and can be referenced later."

The company’s president, Mark Windover, could not be reached for comment.

Monteleone said that his department’s unit is "usually used every shift," and reads an average of 9,000 to 13,000 plates every month, helping to make anywhere from 10 to 25 arrests per month.

"It’s a variable number," he said.

One such arrest was that of Wendy Jacobson, of Altamont. Jacobson was arrested on Jan. 17 in the driveway of her home at 130 Maple Ave.

According to the sheriff’s report, she was arrested for third-degree unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, failure to deliver license and registration, and driving with a suspended registration, all misdemeanors, and driving an uninsured vehicle, and operating a motor vehicle without an inspection sticker, both infractions.

The sheriff’s department was alerted by the Mobil Plate Hunter 900 that the vehicle’s registration was suspended, the arrest report says. Jacobson was found to have a suspended registration, and a suspended license, both due to a lapse in insurance, and the registration plates were confiscated by the sheriff’s department, the report says.

Jacobson could not be reached for comment.

Monteleone said that Jacobson had most likely been pulling into her driveway, and the alert from the system came after she arrived at her home.

No arrests can be made for a system alert of a suspended, revoked, or stolen registration for a vehicle that is parked in a private driveway, Monteleone said.

The system can serve up to four million lines of data, and can combine data from multiple sources, the Remington ELSAG website states.

The Mobile Plate Hunter 900 device pictured on the website is shown hidden within the lights of a patrol car. The Albany County Sheriff’s Department device is not configured this way. It is simply two small cameras affixed to the roof of the car.

This allows the device to be installed on different vehicles, Monteleone said. One camera is directed to scan plates on cars parked on the side of the street, and the other camera scans the plates of oncoming traffic, he said.

"It recognizes in the area of 90 percent of the plates it passes," Monteleone said.

The device has been "very useful," he said.

Songs are Work O’ the Weavers ‘ticket to the planet’

By Rachel Dutil

Music heals.

"There’s something about music that carries ideas deeper than the literal meanings themselves," said James Durst, a full-time musician for four decades.

Durst is one of the founding members of Work O’ the Weavers, a band that celebrates the music of The Weavers.

The Weavers – Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert, and Fred Hellerman – formed in 1948. They sang old folk songs and spirituals that became hits such as: "Goodnight, Irene," "House of the Rising Sun," and "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore."

"They started the folk music boom," said Guilderland native, Mark Murphy – the bassist for Work O’ the Weavers.

"They were really the first group to bring traditional music to a wide audience," Murphy said.

Work O’ the Weavers will bring the classic folk songs of The Weavers to the area on March 4; they will play a coffeehouse at the Ohav Shalom Congregation in Albany.

Work O’ the Weavers not only sing the "beloved, familiar songs that the Weavers popularized, we also tell their story," said Durst.

The group – Durst, Murphy, David Bernz, and Martha Sandefer – presents a dialogue throughout each performance, telling the history of The Weavers and their songs.

"A lot of the narrative appears in the form of song introductions," Durst said of this unique theatrical element.

"Music is at the very heart of our existence," Durst said. The human heartbeat is the rhythm-keeper of our lives, he said.

The real connection the group has with The Weavers, is through Bernz, Durst told The Enterprise. Bernz lives near Seeger in Beacon, a city in Dutchess County on the Hudson River, about 60 miles north of New York. Bernz also works with Seeger frequently, Durst said.

Bernz grew up next door to Hays – who was known as "Uncle Lee" to Bernz and his siblings, Durst said. Hays lived next door to Bernz’s family until he died in 1981.

Work O’ the Weavers came about as the brainchild of Durst and Bernz, Murphy said. They wanted to celebrate, honor, and thank The Weavers while three members are still alive, he said.

They have been doing just that since 2002. The group is now putting the "finishing touches on a second CD," Murphy said. They have also expanded the songs they perform to include songs "written in the same spirit as The Weavers’ materials," he said.

Durst said he appreciates music that gets people singing along together and unifies them. The music "goes deeper into the spirit," he said.

"We love the music. It takes on a life of its own in our performance," said Durst.

Songs that rally the masses

Seeger and Hays began playing music together in 1940 in a band called The Almanac Singers, which included Woodie Guthrie. The Almanac Singers toured the country, supporting civil rights, human rights, and workers’ rights.

The group’s anti-war album, Songs for John Doe, got them into trouble, leading to an FBI investigation.

The Weavers, too, faced scrutiny for their political beliefs. During the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, The Weavers were called to testify in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The band’s affiliation with the Communist Party was questioned, and the group disbanded in 1953.

They reunited and brought folk music to popularity in the 1950s and 60s.

Seeger, in an earlier interview with The Enterprise, said that song has played an important role in sustaining causes around the world. "In Ireland, it was a common saying that King James lost the throne because of the song Lillibolero" It’s a very spirited satirical song," he said.

"My guess is that 99.99 percent of the songs don’t do much, but along comes one which makes a breakthrough the way We Shall Overcome did. This song has gone around the world," Seeger told The Enterprise earlier.

Historically, song has been symbolic of various movements, Durst told The Enterprise. "Song has been used to rally people’s feelings and actions."

Murphy told The Enterprise that today’s polarized "political atmosphere has some similarities" to The Weavers’ era.

Murphy wanted to encourage young musicians to "keep on practicing," he said, "Music can take you all over the world if you keep your hearts and your fingers into it."

The only full-timer

"I’m the only full-timer," Durst said. Playing music has been his full-time job, he said, since he took his first solo tour in the summer of 1965.

The other three members have day jobs, he said.

Bernz has a law practice. Murphy is a carpenter, and also plays in other musical groups. Sandefer is a full-time teacher.

Murphy has played music since the third grade, he said, when he began playing the cello at Altamont Elementary School. He started bass in the 10th grade, he said.

Murphy’s parents are both very musical, and still play in a contra dance band, he said. They "helped introduce me to music," he said.

Music has brought Murphy "to many, many parts of the world," he said.

It recently brought Work O’ the Weavers to Israel, where they played the Jacob’s Ladder Festival, and then toured for two weeks, Durst said. "We performed all over the country," he said.

Durst followed the Work O’ the Weavers tour with a solo tour around Israel.

"I’ve been very fortunate that my songs are my ticket to the planet," Durst said.

He says he has "always been curious about the world" It came very naturally for me to learn songs in other languages."

Durst made his first international tour in 1972, visiting Iceland, Sweden, and Germany.

Before the tour, he learned a Swedish song and a German song, but couldn’t find an Icelandic song. When he arrived in Iceland, he said, "I found a folksinger there who taught me an Icelandic folk song – a 19th-Century lullaby."

Music is Durst’s "life-long pursuit," he said. When asked if he makes a good living as a musician, Durst said he replies, "I’m making a life."

"The Weavers and their music gave heart to a generation " and for that we owe them a great debt of gratitude," Durst said.

The March 4 Work O’ the Weavers show will be held at Congregation Ohav Shalom at 115 Krum Kill Rd. in Albany. Tickets are $18 each, or a special package which includes: two tickets, a CD, and priority seating can be purchased for $60. Tickets can be purchased by calling 489-4706. More information about Work O’ the Weavers can be found at their website: www.workotheweavers.com.

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