Utility Automated License Plate Recognition Technology

Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR): Common Misconceptions, Benefits, and Best Practices.

The panel began with a staggering statistic—ALPR technology can now accurately read 98% of vehicle license plates, helping law enforcement improve the rate and accuracy of monitoring cars connected with criminal activities. However, the tool we know to be effective in keeping communities safe has become a hot topic of debate. There are many misconceptions among lawmakers and the communities they represent regarding how the technology works, how it is operated, and how it impacts privacy. With the proliferation of misinformation is becoming increasingly difficult for law enforcement to communicate that ALPR is a force for good that helps protect the community space they serve.

Selecting an ALPR system

Not all ALPR systems are created equal, and the research can be daunting to busy police units. The key capabilities to look for are:

  1. High-quality camera during all conditions.
  2. Ensuring systems have a reliable analysis or processing engine that accurately extracts the numbers and letters from the license plate with a goal of 96-98% accuracy.
  3. Ensuring systems have powerful reporting and searching capabilities to analyze the data. This allows agencies to be creative with information, like having the ability to analyze traffic patterns, conduct location-based searches, and ultimately speed up the investigation process.

The Information Obtained by ALPR

Data access is controlled by limiting who can view it. The system can run auditing reports to share who is accessing data, what they are getting, and why they are doing those searches. Agency-defined intervals determine how long the information is searchable and when purging from the system occurs. To maintain transparency, policies and procedures should be shared with communities on an ongoing basis in addition to the statistics, successes, and wins that the ALPR system provides.

The audit report includes the date and time of the search, in addition to plate details, the individual conducting the investigation, and the reasoning why that person performed the search.

ALPR: The Implementation Learning Curve

ALPR has analytics built into it and has GPS or proximity-based searching, taking the data science out of the end user’s hands. User interfaces are simple to interact with—minimal input and robust output.

ALPR Technology Improvement

The early days of automatic license plate recognition installation consisted of big, high-resolution cameras paired with image enhancers to capture information. Then they had to connect to an onsite high-processing PC and remain housed there or on the agency’s server.

Currently, the camera footprint is smaller with increased image resolution and quality. In addition, the camera now includes the following:

  • Built-in image enhancers.
  • Containing processing for reading and extracting embedding in the camera.
  • Ultimately removing the need for an onsite PC.

Another evolution that has taken place is internet connectivity. Cameras now transmit images or video to cloud-based platforms or solutions to start conducting an analysis. The final piece and most significant evolution are in the analysis or the processing
engine. Initially, the AI could pull the numbers and letters off the license plate. But today, AI engines can determine the vehicle make, model, color, body type, and state where the tag is issued.

Best Practices for Rolling out Technology in Communities

It’s imperative for police agencies to communicate the purpose and use of ALPR information with neighborhood associations, elected leaders, and local media. Law enforcement professionals must know their communities and engage community stakeholders early and often to:

  • Familiarize members with policies that address concerns, such as data retention. 
  • Make it clear to communities that only trained law enforcement will have access to this information and will only use it to further investigations. 
  • Publicize that the agency owns all the collected data; they have policies that
    prevent this information from being shared with a third party.

The Impact and Future of ALPR

Over 70% of crimes involve a vehicle used to commit that crime. ALPR police technology is not just for catching stolen cars; it can help with burglaries, hit and runs, or any infraction involving a vehicle. It has been proven repeatedly that ALPR data can help develop and pursue criminal investigations in a timelier manner using fewer resources by identifying suspects’ locations and witnesses. It is used as a tool and collection of data to prepare a case in a timelier way.

The hope for the future is for more community adoption of ALPR to enable the availability of more comprehensive data.  Chief Gary Woodruff states, “At the end of the day, law enforcement agencies are all about convictions in court. The arrest is just the first chapter in a 100-chapter book. Working your way through the judication process and providing irrefutable evidence in court to a judge or jury should convince people beyond reasonable doubt that the person committed a crime.”

For questions and more information on this topic, email info@utilty.com

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