ALPR for All
Written by Susan Crandall   

This article appeared in the May-June 2020 issue of Evidence Technology Magazine.
You can view that issue here.

LEGACY AUTOMATIC LICENSE PLATE RECOGNITION (ALPR) technology, while innovative in its own right, is a one-trick pony—a “uni-tasker” solution that is sometimes clunky, expensive, and requires other hardware or software integrations in order to provide the true experience you’re looking for.

Remember how annoying it used to be to go on a road trip and need to pack your flip phone, Garmin GPS, digital camera, and video game system to keep the kids occupied? How much easier and more cost effective is it now with a smartphone that encompasses all those features?

That’s the exciting evolution of ALPR. Current technologies are more flexible and can leverage existing cameras; Software as a Service (SaaS) licensing models and lower-priced hardware have democratized the cost; and systems have improved past the single use of license plate identification to also include detailed, data-driven vehicle analysis. With multiple camera types, artificial intelligence (AI) technology, and robust dashboards providing dynamic data insights, ALPRs are now more powerful than ever before—for law enforcement and beyond.

The incorporation of AI capabilities (most specifically, machine vision and machine learning) has significantly evolved the accuracy of ALPR technology. Moreover, advanced ALPR software can now be installed into any existing surveillance camera, giving agencies remote access to video streams. This allows agencies and municipalities to save thousands of dollars on equipment and maximize their safe-city and ALPR investments. Advanced ALPR technology can now provide additional vehicle attributes at the time the vehicle is detected—including make, model, color, class of vehicle, missing plates, direction of travel, and tag number. The advancements in the technology, including the ability to be hardware agnostic and reporting of additional attributes, allow agencies to have more effective and cost-efficient ALPR programs.

ALPR cameras can now identify more than just license plates on vehicles, providing law enforcement with many more details than before.

ALPR is a not only a proven technology for real-time alerting, but it has also played a critical role in accelerating investigations and helping solve cases. For example, the Westchester County (NY) Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center (RTCC), which utilizes ALPR technology, received a video of an assault on a parking enforcement officer. Law enforcement was able to use the video evidence captured by an ALPR camera, extract the critical information about a particular vehicle of interest, and pair it with additional case information to successfully locate the vehicle and make an arrest—all within an hour of the crime being reported.

When a crime is committed using a vehicle, investigators are often only left with minimal details such as color and model. Traditional ALPR cameras wouldn’t offer much assistance, if any, under these circumstances. However, as ALPR technology has evolved, it has enabled agencies to identify a vehicle without the license plate by simply inputting the information that is available; this creates a hotlist that flags vehicles meeting the specified criteria. An example would be to enter make, model, and color, and then set an alert for a type of vehicle, not just a license plate. Another feature that has expanded the range of ALPR technology is the ability to upload the information to a network, allowing other agencies and municipalities to be alerted when a vehicle matching the description is detected. Earlier this year, the Mt. Juliet (Tennessee) Police Department was able to arrest a suspect driving a stolen vehicle from a neighboring city. A neighboring department shared the vehicle’s information, and Mt. Juliet Police placed the vehicle on their own hotlist. This allowed them to flag the vehicle when it drove by an ALPR camera. Once it had been flagged, officers were able to quickly locate the vehicle and apprehend the suspects.

ALPR technology can also be a valuable security tool for business owners and educational institutions, allowing them to integrate the software into existing security cameras for an additional level of safety. With the ability to create watchlists for prohibited vehicles—such as those driven by terminated or disgruntled employees— businesses and institutions can be more proactive in preventing an incident from occurring rather than reactive once that person walks into a building. In addition, businesses and institutions can share data captured with their partner law enforcement agency, accelerating investigations and improving response times. Conversely, whitelists can be created to allow approved contractors and visitors, staff, and students to more efficiently enter and park on the property.

ALPR technology has been used by law enforcement for decades in an effort to accelerate investigations and close cases. However, there has been a tremendous uptick in efficiency and effectiveness as legacy ALPR evolved from offering limited capabilities into new ALPR technology with a wide range of functions, features, and interoperability with hardware. We’ve seen a drastic change in how this technology is being utilized to accelerate investigations and close cases by providing more accurate and timely leads to investigators.

About The Author
Susan Crandall is the chief marketing officer at Rekor Systems, Inc. She brings two decades of business experience in the data and technology field, holding leadership roles in business development, product development, market strategy, and marketing at brands such as Motorola Solutions and LexisNexis. Crandall has a deep knowledge of ALPR technology and its deployment in a broad array of markets, including government and public safety, corporate security, financial services, insurance and parking.

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