License plate recognition (LPR) technology continues to advance and is better equipped than ever to support law enforcement and help save lives and protect property. Specific cases of LPR technology in action, as described in this article, demonstrate how it aids law enforcement in everything from reducing gasoline theft and enforcing traffic regulations, to identifying murder suspects and enabling arrests.
Approximately 70 percent of all serious crime involves a motor vehicle, and law enforcement agencies nationwide acknowledge that license plates are critical crime-fighting tools used to track and identify these offenders, according to International Association of Chiefs of Police, Alexandria, Va.
“The ability of LPR systems to communicate with and assist law enforcement is more and more important,” says Aluisio Figueiredo, chief operating officer, Intelligent Security Systems (ISS), Woodbridge, N.J.
He shares that developments in LPR-specific cameras are enabling the opportunity for LPR-related systems to “proactively” assist law enforcement.
“Cameras equipped with true LPR algorithms provide detection when a vehicle is approaching. Without these sorts of algorithms, this has to be done with sensors, which have to be installed in roadways. When such technology is tied into various law enforcement departments in an automated way, it can make a big difference with response teams. The essential difference here is between the old, forensic model and one that is proactive and used for crime prevention,” Figueiredo describes.
Paulo Hack, director of Speed Sistemas in Brazil, has done a lot of integration work with ISS on various projects, including Itajaí, the second-largest port in Brazil.
“Beyond needing to automate the security process, the port also needed to be able to have a proactive security system — one that could help prevent theft, instead of merely being a forensic tool after the fact,” Hack explains. “If a truck doesn’t make it from dry dock to the seaport in a timely way, or if its weight when it does arrive does not substantially match the dry dock weight, such a situation can be easily red-flagged. With ISS, the relevant information on containers and license plates can be shared immediately with various security and customs officials,” Hack relates.
Today’s LPR can come in software-only versions or be embedded right on the cameras, such as the solution from ipConfigure Inc., Norfolk, Va., which is available for servers or embedded cameras. Supporting Axis ACAP-capable cameras equipped with the ARTPEC-4 processor, the embedded LPR software is capable of independently detecting, reading, and recording license plates internally to the camera.
“ipConfigure’s first commercially available embedded LPR application does not need a server on the back end. The camera can be hung virtually anywhere and accessed by any computer with access to that network. Full overview images provide more forensic detail of the car than just the plate, including the color, make, registration, etc. Captured plate data can be used for numerous applications including: parking enforcement, parking permit control, vehicle inventory, parking lot security and access control, stolen vehicle recovery, expired registration enforcement, city-wide surveillance, gas station drive-off prosecution and more,” explains Sami Proctor, marketing manager at ipConfigure.
With all of the processing, recognition, and storage being done inside the Axis camera, including the onboard search and watch-list features, “the LPR opportunities are endless,” shares Aaron Alexander, owner, Security 101, Charlotte, N.C. “The feature my customers and I are most impressed with is barrier control; the ability to automatically lift an entrance gate based on a set watch-list of plates.”
Many functions are being automated today with LPR, including using LPR capture itself.
Automated license plate readers (ALPR) mounted in police cars as an investigative tool allow for an incredible number of license plates to be scanned and recorded. According to recent police data, the city of Boston’s four scanner-equipped cars do 3,500 scans a day and more than 1 million per year. Read an example of ALPR in, “LPR Technology Fights Crime, Drug Trafficking,” on this page.
PIPS Technology Inc., a Federal Signal company, Knoxville, Tenn., reports that under traditional methods, in a mobile setting, an officer would typically check no more than 20 to 50 license plates in a standard eight-hour shift, but using ALPR frees the officer to focus on his driving and look at other things outside the vehicle, while automatically checking every vehicle he or she encounters. The system is limited only by the number of plates that are able to pass in front of the camera, according to the company.
Law enforcement is looking for affordable LPR systems that are robust and easy-to-use to track and catch criminals, observes John Chigos, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of PlateSmart Technologies, Oldsmar, Fla.
“The use of LPR technology can help with parking lot capacity analysis, traffic volume and pattern analysis, detecting abnormal vehicle behavior, and detecting criminal behavior, as well as criminal database scanning for law enforcement. Platesmart’s technology allows for the rapid installation of LPR systems that can be linked to both the on-site security office and local law enforcement and instantly inform them of any alert the LPR systems return. There is now no lag time between when an alert is seen to the immediate response by security personnel and or law enforcement,” Chigos says.
These days, LPR cameras are used more and more often in conjunction with other security systems — video surveillance, for example, where an LPR camera can trigger PTZ camera actions, recording, etc.,” says Nathalie Poirier, product manager for LPR solutions, Genetec, Montreal, Canada.
“LPR cameras like Genetec’s are getting much more intelligent and they help identify a lot more than just the license plate number, such as a car’s make, model, color, signature, type of vehicle, speed estimation, direction of travel, etc. With these new features, LPR cameras can be used for a wider variety of applications such as making sure a car does not drive in a bus lane, for instance, or getting information at a parking entrance/exit to make sure the vehicles that enter are the same as the ones that exit,” Poirier explains.
Chigos says LPR technology has become one of the most important technologies for law enforcement and security agencies since the advent of the police radio, explaining that “the reason for this is LPR is the first technology to provide real-time analytical data that can be used in mission-critical situations where any lag time can mean the difference between life and death.”
LPR Leads to Arrest
Bosch Security Systems’ license plate capture cameras help improve security across North America by providing effective vehicle surveillance and access control. At Rainbow Hotel & Casino in Mississippi, police used images from Bosch’s license plate cameras to capture a criminal who repeatedly preyed on vulnerable adults.
Previously, operators could not identify vehicles entering the property, as conventional cameras were not effectively or consistently capturing license plates on a 24/7 basis, and difficult speed and lighting conditions on site made reliable capture elusive. Operators could not identify or prevent the entry of unwanted vehicles.
Bosch’s license plate capture cameras provided effective 24/7 coverage, getting the plate of every vehicle entering and exiting the property. The camera technology overcame problems associated with reflectivity, glare, headlights, darkness and speed. With the improved technology, operators could know which vehicles were coming and going, and unwanted visitors were kept off the property, which improved security day and night. The irrefutable evidence provided by the cameras also allowed successful conviction of a known felon.
The culprit had frustrated authorities for months, cheating victims of cash, bank cards, PINs and checks. Cooperating with the Mississippi Office of the Attorney General, Rainbow Hotel & Casino delivered a clear license plate and vehicle image, leading to the arrest. The accused pleaded guilty and received a several-year jail term.
“The authorities were after this person for months, but she always found ways to escape the law. The Bosch [license plate capture] cameras delivered police the evidence they needed to put this criminal away,” says Michael Stark, Bluff City Electronics, installer for the solution.
Innovative LPR Usage Reduces Gasoline Theft
An innovative Swedish project to cut down on costly gas station “drive-aways” paired IQinVision’s cameras with Milestone’s video surveillance management platform running LPR Analytics. The expanding project is being implemented in cooperation with Milestone Systems and Niscayah.
Ingalill Sedell, manager of a filling station in Örebro, Sweden, decided it was time to do something about mounting losses at her family’s 24-hour Statoil gasoline station and shop. The station has 10 pumps, serving some 900 customers each day and as many as 1,200 during peak spring months. According to Sedell’s calculations, just one drive-off with a full tank resulted in a loss that required an entire day of fuel sales to recuperate.
Various counteraction systems had been tested at different stations, but they were either too expensive or negatively affected customer purchasing patterns. In Nordic countries, gasoline and food buffets are paid after the fact. If customers are asked to pay before the delicacies are served, they would be offended — the same applies to fuel purchases. As Sedell looked around for a solution to limit her businesses losses, she was introduced to a new LPR analytics and video surveillance system intended to supplement filling station security systems.
The anti-theft system is comprised of a Milestone XProtect Corporate video surveillance management platform running Milestone XProtect LPR Analytics, with at least two IQinVision IQeye megapixel cameras per station deployed to record the gas-pump areas. All customer license plate data is captured in IQeye image quality and fed to a Niscayah customer service center, where the license plate data is stored in a database. Should a customer forget to pay a fuel bill or a dishonest person simply drive off without paying, this event data is registered in the system. The next time a car with an offending license plate comes into the station, or any filling station in the country connected to the Niscayah system, the Milestone system sends an alert locally to the station and remotely to the Niscayah customer service center, and the pump is locked automatically.
The Swedish Fuel Traders Association reports the industry loses more than $7 million every year from people driving off without paying for their fuel purchases.
LPR Technology Fights Crime, Drug Trafficking
The Jackson, Miss. Police Department is using the AutoVu License Plate Recognition (LPR) solution from Genetec to help officers identify criminals and increase the safety of its citizens.
The Jackson PD currently has several vehicles equipped with Genetec AutoVu mobile LPR system, located in each of the city’s precincts, to ensure there is an officer in each precinct, patrolling and utilizing the technology to scan their area at all times. AutoVu automatically collects vehicle license plates, runs them against a computerized “hot list,” and if there is a “match,” alerts the Jackson PD officers of issues and infractions, without interfering with their working day or duties.
Inside each police cruiser, on a ruggedized laptop installed for driver use, is the AutoVu Patroller, software designed to automate the verification of vehicle license plates. On the body of each of the cars are two AutoVu SharpX IP-based LPR cameras. The in-vehicle Patroller application helps officers review all data collected throughout the day while the officers back at the central PD unit can monitor and analyze reads from the vehicles. Wirelessly, or at the end of a shift, all data collected is synchronized with the Jackson PD’s central system for ongoing analysis.
The Jackson PD has been running Genetec AutoVu systems since 2011.
“Initially, we were looking for a way to help us to locate people with multiple unpaid moving violations, and to increase our odds of catching them. Using the NCIC and warrant hotlist, the AutoVu LPR system has been so successful in helping us recover all of these outstanding fines that the system is paying for itself,” explains Eric Wall, deputy chief of patrol operations, at the Jackson PD.
More recently, during “Operation Safe Shop” the Jackson PD was able to use the LPR-equipped vehicles to scan cars coming into major retail centers and apprehend wanted felons before they could get into the stores.
Because it is uniquely located at the intersection of Interstate 55 (which crosses the country from north to south), and Interstate 20 (which crosses from east to west), the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Program considers Jackson a key area. A few months ago, during a routine patrol, the AutoVu system was able to flag the car of wanted narcotics dealers, which led to their arrest. Based on their successes, Jackson PD is now planning to increase the number of vehicles equipped with AutoVu to support the narcotics and K9 divisions.
“Being able to add this technology to our road interdiction units will not only help out our own city, but will play a significant role in supporting other regional agencies stem the trafficking of drugs throughout the region,” Deputy Chief Wall predicts.
‘Once we started using the LPR system, we soon discovered that a number of the people we had identified for unpaid moving violations were also wanted for other crimes, which led to a number of arrests and convictions.’ — Eric Wall, Deputy Chief of Patrol Operations, at the Jackson PD
LPR Is a Game Changer for South American City
Everyone who has driven in a big city has seen the lanes that are marked for bus and/or emergency vehicles. Some may have wondered how it is cities can enforce traffic laws related to these lanes. The city of Santiago, Chile has come up with a solution.
For years, drivers in this city have regularly ignored ordinances that forbade them from being in a bus lane unless they were going to make a right-hand turn at a particular intersection. There were simply not enough officers available to monitor such situations.
After much investigation, the city decided its best solution would involve a combination of video surveillance and LPR. They used Bosch Security Systems’ and Axis’ IP video surveillance cameras and SecurOS LPR software from Intelligent Security Systems (ISS).
Axis and Bosch video surveillance cameras equipped with SecurOS LPR software have been installed at various problematic intersections in the city. The software integration was handled by Protab.
“It’s very simple,” says Sebastian Muñoz, country manager for ISS in Chile. “Drivers have been forced to be accountable by our new system. If they are in the bus lane to turn right and continue straight ahead, they know now that we will capture their license plate and an image of their car, and that a substantial fine will be automatic. Signs give them ample notice to exit the lane.”
Muñoz adds, “I cannot overstate the reliability and convenience of these automated features, from capturing violators to issuing tickets. The images are very clear and the process is seamless. Also, we don’t need as many traffic safety officers as before in such areas, which is definitely being looked at in the bigger picture for further cost savings to the city.”
LPR Used in Murder Investigations
Guatemala City is the capital and largest city in Guatemala. It has consistently made the list of being one of the most dangerous cities in Latin America. However, governmental authorities in the country are taking steps to address violent crime and traffic problems. One of the ways that they are doing that is through the use of hundreds of IP video surveillance cameras throughout the city that include SecurOS LPR software from ISS.
In addition to monitoring problem intersections as well as being used for general security purposes around the city, SecurOS LPR software was recently used to track down murder suspects. There recently had been a rash of carjackings and violent assaults in the city, several of which resulted in the victims being killed. These crimes occurred in various areas of the city and usually at night.
The perpetrators, however, were unaware that 350 video surveillance cameras equipped with SecurOS LPR software from ISS had been installed at various points throughout the city. Because of this, authorities not only were able to capture the plate numbers of some of the suspects’ cars involved, but actually captured some of the murders on video. This invaluable forensic evidence allowed them to track and capture many of the suspects.
With a limited budget for law enforcement staff, video surveillance technology is helping close the gaps that might otherwise exist due to hiring constraints. There is also the simple fact that no matter how much staff one deploys, officers cannot be everywhere all the time. The automated features of video surveillance in combination with LPR provide layers of security that help overcome this fact.
Guatemala City is actively making plans to expand the number of cameras equipped with SecurOS LPR software over the next few months.
Solving Problems Everywhere
Willem Ryan, senior product marketing manager, Bosch Security Systems Inc., Fairport, N.Y., shares that, in addition to law enforcement, there are many unique end user problems solved with the use of LPR cameras that integrators can help provide including:
“At construction sites — where there is a high rate of theft of copper and other materials — license plate capture cameras combined with alerting software has been used to identify and alert to vehicles entering the area. This can help reduce the occurrence of thefts and identify thieves for prosecution.
“Other unique applications involve the use of license plate capture cameras for business intelligence and marketing purposes. One airport used information garnered from its license plate capture cameras to attract airlines to invest in gate properties at its site.
“In Europe, we’ve also seen license plate capture cameras used for tolling in city centers. If a vehicle enters a city during times of high traffic, the vehicle owner will be charged a toll. These and other types of traffic applications, such as general toll-road enforcement and journey time analysis, is often outside the realm of the average security integrator, as license plate capture is usually a part of a larger system.
“In traditional security applications, license plate capture cameras are being used for access control, parking enforcement, law enforcement and for general security.
“Using license plate capture for facility access control is one of the growth areas in this segment of the security industry. The cameras can allow security personnel to control the vehicles that are allowed to enter a facility or to generally track entry and exits of vehicles. For automated control, they can be used to trigger gates to open or remain closed based on the license plate of the vehicle. They can also be used for real-time alerts of wanted plates.
“In parking enforcement, the cameras can be used for automated payments from regular patrons of parking lots or garages. For example, a customer’s account could be charged for parking based on the system capturing the plate as the vehicle enters and exits the lot,” Ryan explains.
Selecting cameras for license plate recognition (LPR) starts with the choice between LPR-specific cameras or non-LPR network cameras. SDM examines, “5 Ways to Measure up LPR & Non-LPR Cameras,” at www.SDMmag.com/lpr-vs-non-lpr-cameras.