Fake cactuses host hidden license-plate cameras in Arizona town

Arizona drivers with stolen license plates should be wary of cactuses. One town has installed cameras tucked away in faux versions of the spiny plants.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

Cactus camera
This license-plate cam is a little prickly. Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Paradise Valley, Ariz., might sound like it should be a utopian oasis of a community, but rule-breaking drivers won't find sanctuary there. The town, located near Phoenix, has installed a set of sneaky traffic cameras, hiding the devices in holes inside fake cactuses. Local news station Fox 10 calls the gadgets "cact-eye."

The cactuses seem to be modeled after the saguaro cactus, the iconic Arizona cactus often seen with "arms" reaching upward. The fake ones are armless and set into a flat concrete base. The cameras are designed to read license plates. Those plates are compared with a database of stolen cars and used to alert police when a match occurs.

The same sort of cameras are already installed on traffic lights around Paradise Valley. The Paradise Valley Police Department issued a press release on May 2 noting the License Plate Recognition system's first confirmed "hit" with a match to a stolen plate. Police recovered the plate, but did not arrest or cite the driver. It appears the hidden cactus cameras will be an extension of this system.

People concerned with privacy and drivers who hate other traffic-watching tech like red-light cameras won't be thrilled with the hidden cactus-cams. The town manager, Kevin Burke, says the disguise is merely an attempt to make the cams look attractive.

Burke told Fox 10 last week the cameras aren't yet live. "We want to make sure we're answering everybody's questions about data retention, how the things will be used, we want to make sure that is vetted before we turn these things up," he said.

Paradise Valley is no stranger to traffic cameras. The town proudly proclaims it was "the first police department in the nation to institute a traffic safety program using speed-measuring devices coupled with still photography and computers to enforce speed laws."

If you don't want to get spiked, you'd best stay on the right side of the law in Paradise Valley.

(Via The Verge)