Plate spotting

LPR units act as mechanical eyes on the road

     In order to combat the unique policing challenges in the City of Show Low, Smythe has been working with Phoenix-based Redflex over the past year to implement a combination photo enforcement and automated license plate recognition (ALPR) technology package, which integrates PlateScan Inc.'s unit. Smythe has contracted Redflex to integrate several fixed sites in the city to act as both a surveillance strategy and a real-time notification system for hotlisted vehicle tags.

     Two cameras are planned to monitor incoming traffic from the Phoenix area. "What we're looking forward to is being able to interdict stolen cars and drug offenders as they enter our community and arrest them prior to landing here in Show Low, so to speak," Smythe says.

     Show Low was able to secure funding for the license plate recognition systems because it is blending PlateScan technology with Redflex's red light and speed enforcement system, enabling the city to use violater fines to pay for the package, Smythe explains. "I have a fairly small department with a fairly tight budget, so to be able to go out and spend $25,000 or $30,000 on a plate scan system - I certainly can't afford to do that," Smythe says. In the end, he says the several sites, with two planned to be running as early as May, will end up costing the department little or nothing.

     Florida-based NDI Technologies offers its next generation ALPR system, VeriPlate. Originally launched in 2006, VeriPlate has added features like automatic wireless hotlist transmission, in-car mapping, CAD system integration, among others in the last three years. Keith Yahn, operations manager for NDI for six years, explains VeriPlate is also able to validate tag alarms live through its control center and the in-vehicle CAD with a single button push.

Tech hurdles

     A variety of obstacles litter the path between LPR technology and widespread successful implementation.

     One hurdle that has been consistently brought up over time is a concern over privacy. Accusations of LPR units as a Big Brother-like surveillance can generally be counted on to appear in LPR articles written for consumers. Later this year, the International Association of Chiefs of Police plans to complete two projects addressing these LPR privacy issues and policy execution. A spokeswoman for the initiatives explains a Privacy Impact Assessment and Policy and Operational Guide should ensure data is managed to meet the needs of public safety while protecting individuals' privacy interests.

     Other challenges in tag reading are rooted in the variety of plates on the road in the Unites States.

     Charlie Carpinteri, director of product development for Redflex Traffic Systems, explains the inconsistent appearances of plates from state to state make recognition tricky.

     "You have multiple different plates, fonts, designs, combinations of characters and you have color to deal with," says Carpinteri, who has worked with Redflex for 10 years. "Then there are sort of static decorative images … that are nightmares for machine vision." The technology utilized in Redflex's ALPR systems tackles this problem through what Carpinteri calls an artificial intelligence approach. Neural network algorithms (as opposed to more common optical character recognition algorithms) identify characters by pointing at them from different angles, which Carpinteri says results in more accurate reads and can do a better job of identifying characters obscured by dirt or snow.

Today's potential

     "The very first day we were out, my partner and I recovered two stolen vehicles," Hedley says. "We thought, wow, this is going to make our jobs 10 times easier, it's a much more efficient use of manpower and the technology can only get better."

     And it has.

     LPR systems today incorporate other law enforcement resources into their offerings.

     Mark Windover, CEO and founder of ELSAG, says since the company's inception, the ability to integrate child abduction bulletins, such as AMBER Alerts, was an important consideration. Windover explains there are a variety of ways police can utilize information known about a vehicle in an abduction, such as referencing partial plate information on LPR patrol and reviewing any recent tag read history for leads.

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