Rapid changes in technology can make it difficult to stay ahead of the game.
The above statement is particularly true when it comes to Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) systems which combine cameras, data processors and character recognition software, all of which are constantly evolving. Even law enforcement’s use of the technology continues to evolve. Once used only to recover stolen vehicles and track expired vehicle registrations, ALPR is now used to solve a countless number of offenses.
In fact, a recent survey of sworn law enforcement, conducted on behalf of Vigilant Solutions, found that ALPR technology had assisted respondents in solving more than 15 different crimes, including stolen vehicle (76%), murder (43%), child abduction (28%), rape (23%), and terrorism (12%). Furthermore, 80% of the respondents indicated that ALPR data had either directly, or indirectly, assisted them in providing leads and closing cases.
“This research is concrete evidence of what we have known for a long time – that ALPR data is vital to helping law enforcement agencies to investigate, solve and reduce crime,” said Shawn Smith, Founder and President of Vigilant Solutions.
For those who fear the information gathered by ALPR systems could be misused to attain personal information, survey respondents revealed a wide variety of consequences for law enforcement officers who violate their agency’s DMV record access policy, with more than half citing termination (64%) or formal reprimand (58%).
The past year has seen a variety of changes to the technologies we reported on last year (https://tinyurl.com/y72qn4nm).
“The availability of higher resolution image sensors and faster in-camera data processing continues to increase plate detection and capture rates which result in greater accuracy and improved performance for the end user,” says Clare Husbands, Senior Marketing Manager for L3 Mobile-Vision. “The higher performance hardware enables additional software capabilities for improved results on post-capture investigative analysis and higher accuracy of real-time actionable alerts.”
The industry has even evolved beyond traditional camera systems in some cases. “You can now perform ALPR in the US with just a smartphone,” says Michael Organ, Content Manager for Anyline. “You no longer need to buy dedicated cameras and worry about where they will be mounted or how they’ll be serviced. By adding ALPR to mobile devices, police officers gain the power to scan license plates whenever and wherever they like. This can help officers to be more responsive in the field and save time in their daily duties.”
Just as smartphones, cameras and processing power are evolving in leaps and bounds, we can expect a lot of changes to emerge in the near future.
“LPR technology in the next five to ten years will become more tightly integrated with other law enforcement enabling technologies. This integration will provide a better toolset for solving and preventing crimes while closing interagency security gaps at the state and federal level,” Husbands says.
“ALPR technology should improve immensely over the next five years. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will make scan accuracy virtually perfect. You will also see ALPR become available on a much wider range of devices now that it has reached smartphones. This means police officers and departments can move to mobile scanning instead of typing or writing in their daily work routines,” Organ adds.
“The biggest changes that can occur in the next five to ten years depend on whether or not departments embrace digital transformation. Digital transformation will give police the opportunity to save time and gather data or evidence in the most efficient way possible. For police officers, this will mean more time in the field and less time spent on administrative duties,” he says.
Shopping for ALPR
Once you’ve decided to embrace the future and are ready to purchase an ALPR system, it is time to consider your needs and the types of systems available.
“You need to have a strong understanding of your use case and know how well your officers will be able to manage the system you choose. Any system will eat into your budget if it’s left unused,” Organ says.
Ask when and where your department would use ALPR and who would use the system. Is it something which every officer would need to access? Is an automatic system right for your department? Do you want to use it for criminal investigations or simply traffic monitoring?
“Where and in what capacity you want to use the system will determine whether you need a mobile (in-car), portable (trailer with hitch) or fixed (secured to a road fixture) system,” NDI Recognition Systems recommends on its Web site. “Depending on the use, you may find you’re in need of more than one type of ALPR. Lighting conditions, speed of vehicles in the area of interest, public point of view, and duration of the hardware or software are a few examples of what to consider when exploring ALPR options.”
“The most important thing for agencies to consider is what they want to achieve with an ALPR system and if the chosen solution can fulfill it,” Husbands adds. “Factors such as existing infrastructure, license plate spectral characteristics and organizational preparedness must be taken into consideration before purchasing a system. A dedicated ALPR ‘champion’ in the agency is often beneficial to ensure a successful deployment.”
Finally, “Once you’ve decided on which type of ALPR best meets your needs, consider what will be needed to continue supporting the technology from the back-end. Maintenance costs, software upgrades and manpower to resource the technology are often overlooked. Will a central monitoring team be in place and ready to support the new technology if needed? Do you have access to an IT professional who can assist with your system’s network and set-up? Or will you need to add these services on to the ALPR provider’s contract? Whose server will host your data? Most leading ALPR providers offer full support capabilities. Look for an ALPR vendor who can help set-up and maintain the solution throughout the duration of the product’s life-cycle,” NDI suggests.
Anyline’s mobile scanning technology lets police officers scan license plates, VIN numbers, serial numbers, and more with a smartphone. This mobile OCR solution is capable of performing ALPR in any location, no matter the conditions.
Mobile license plate scanning means that officers can reduce the amount of time they spend on reporting and communication. They no longer need to perform manual data entry to bring license plate information online. Reporting license plate numbers via radio communication can also be removed from police processes. Instead, scan information can be linked with a database to give officers real-time information in the field.
Moreover, Anyline processes all scan information on your device for the most secure results possible. None of your data is transferred to the cloud or open to online security threats. Once you have a secure internet connection, you can easily bring all your scan information online via file transfer.
Anyline’s license plate scanning technology can be combined with the company’s other mobile solutions. This means that police officers can scan IDs such as passports and drivers’ licenses alongside license plates and other automotive identifiers.
Leonardo’s ELSAG Enterprise Operation Center (EOC) now features Make, Type and Color Recognition (MTC) capabilities. Using advanced computer vision software, ELSAG ALPR data can now be processed to include the vehicle’s make, type – sedan, SUV, hatchback, pickup, minivan, van, box truck – and general color – red, blue, green, white and yellow. The solution actively recognizes the 34 most common vehicle brands on U.S. roads.
Additionally, the system will identify unique vehicle markings like a pedestal spoiler, roof rack, spare tire, bumper sticker or a ride sharing company decal.
This means that, if an eyewitness is unsure about a plate number, the investigator can search for vehicles by color along with other provided descriptors. ELSAG MTC will be offered as a subscription-based add-on to the ELSAG EOC. End users can choose from either a hardware or cloud-based solution depending on their needs.
L3’s AlertVU™ Automatic License Plate Recognition system for fixed, portable and mobile applications helps capture license plate information using three solutions.
The Fixed LPR system can be installed virtually anywhere and reads plates at varying angles and lighting conditions, even in total darkness, including reading plates from the outermost lanes of traffic.
The Portable LPR system is solar powered, making it ideal for flexible and temporary geo-fencing uses such as special events or dignitary visits.
The Mobile LPR system allows you to mount multiple cameras on each vehicle. It can be used for highway interdiction along with parking lot and neighborhood patrols.
NDI Recognition Systems
The V230 Automatic Number Plate Recognition camera is a fixed focal length, dual IR and color overview camera with a high-powered LED illuminator, enclosed in a low profile, compact housing which is ideal for mobile and covert applications and where space is limited.
The V230 recognizes number plates in a single lane up to a range of 13 meters. Two presets allow the unit to be configured to read plates day or night, no matter the condition of the plate type or character or in challenging weather. Powered by the NDI TALON™ engine technology, the V230 is ideal for car park and traffic management, speed enforcement and criminal investigations by law enforcement, government and commercial organizations worldwide.
VeriPlate® Mobile ALPR Software provides a simple, easy to use visual representation of everything the ALPR engine is processing. VeriPlate software presents recognitions and alerts to the user, while other components of the NDI ALPR solution ensure the collected data is retained in the in-vehicle database.
Designed with an easy to use interface, VeriPlate requires a minimal amount of training for effective use. The system is optimized to work with your in-vehicle laptop to reduce clutter and seamlessly integrate with existing systems. The VeriPlate ALPR Software solution utilizes a Microsoft® powered local database which provides fast matching of hot list data, as well as the ability to store vehicle and user information securely.
VeriPlate also features off-line mapping which uses GPS coordinates to allow the user to quickly view the location of the vehicle read/alert on a Microsoft MapPoint® map. The MapMe feature also allows the user to view their current location on a MapPoint map.
Formerly the Editor-in-Chief for Forensic Magazine, Rebecca Waters is a freelance writer and editor.