Click, you’re it

It’s mid-afternoon on a Saturday as you cruise your patrol car through the parking lot of a strip mall. A small national chain store and several novelty shops offer sales to entice clientele, and the almost full parking lot shows the ads worked...


A second use is investigation. The information collected by the ALPR system, especially those with GPS capability, can be used for a variety of investigative purposes. Narcotics agents can see who is coming and going around known drug houses. Alibis can be confirmed or dispelled. Probation officers have evidence of whether their probationers have been in restricted areas. “Detectives look at mass amounts of data,” explains Nate Malone, vice president of marketing and communication at Elsag North America. “They can go back and look at a data set.” ALPR technology can help focus an investigation. “It has much more powerful uses in terms of using the data from all plate reads to solve crime, find patterns of movement and gives detectives or crime analysts a place to start an investigation,” says Pinzler.

Many agencies are collaborating to increase the effectiveness of their ALPR systems. Lincoln (Nebraska) Police Department collaborates with the State Patrol and Omaha Police Department. Post Falls shares with Kootenai County Sheriff Department and Coeur d’Alene Police Department. Although South Portland Police Department is the only agency in the state with ALPR, they have a mutual aid agreement written into their SOP. “If another agency needed us, we would allow the ALPR car to respond and assist,” says Clark.  

 

Funding

Different types of funding exist for ALPR, says Pinzler. “Some are grants. Some are internal, such as from search and seizure funds or general funds. Some are from citizenry who want to see their police force with the equipment. It’s all over the lot.” Agencies have been successful in gaining general funding by explaining the revenue generating nature of the technology. For example, in Connecticut, vehicles are attached to a personal property tax. Due to the amount of non-compliant citizens, the state advised the public these plates would be put on an unpaid tax list attached to the ALPR. “They collected three million dollars in unpaid taxes by saying we’re going to put out on the list,” explains Malone. Special funding can also be gained by entering agreements with various organizations, such as local Home Owners Associations (HOA) or through support from insurance organizations.  

A popular way of funding is federal and state grants. Utica (Michigan) Police Department outfitted several of their cars with ALPR systems utilizing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money. Utica shared their ALPR technology with a neighboring county to increase the reach of their system and database. In response, the state granted them additional money. Additional federal grants used by agencies to purchase ALPR include Edward Byrne (JAG), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) grants, as well as, Homeland Security funding. South Portland acquired their ALPR system through a JAG grant in 2009. Now the department is looking to purchase one more.

At the state level, many New York jurisdictions gained the ability to acquire, maintain and support their ALPR technology with funding by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. As with most grants, establishing collaborations with other agencies increases diversity of funding. “It’s an extremely powerful tool and the capability has not been fully capped,” Pinzler states, “particularly in how agencies can work together to solve crimes. It was made [to be] sharable.”

Many of the companies providing ALPR technology, including PIPS, Elsag and PlateScan assist agencies in locating and applying for appropriate grants. “Our operations staff has knowledge in grant writing and will assist agencies,” explains Pinzler. As more agencies acquire the technology, especially those utilizing unique funding, word will spread on how it can be done. Think big and way outside the box. Also, consider what other agency purchases could be made with grants so that money can be used to purchase those items that are not eligible.

 

Privacy concerns

Since its inception in the United States, some oppose to the use of ALPR technology citing violations of privacy. Privacy advocates do not seem to have a problem with the increase in recovered stolen vehicles, reduction of drug distributors, enhanced safety of schools as sex offenders are kept from restricted zones, recovery of endangered children and increase in revenue owned to the state from scofflaws. The argument over unreasonable search has essentially been laid to rest due to the agreement license plates are in the public domain. “When you register a vehicle, you are giving permission for that vehicle to be tracked,” explains Malone. Essentially, the ALPR technology does what officers currently can do, only in a larger volume.

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