How License Plate Recognition Systems Changed With the Times

Automated license plate recognition (ALPR) technology has been around since 1976 and law enforcement agencies, throughout the United States, continue to inquire, evaluate and implement ALPR systems. Police Fleet Manager Magazine recently caught up with two leading companies that specialize in ALPR…to give us an update on how the technology is changing and what users can expect today.
NDI Recognition Systems
NDI Recognition Systems
The past five years has brought with them many changes in how license plate readers (LPR) are being used in the public safety, private, and healthcare industries. Not only have the cameras, software, and costs changed and evolved, but the priority level of the tool has been moved to the top of everyone’s list. The federal, state, and local agencies who once viewed the technology as a wishful thought, now see the capability of having an all-in-one surveillance tool.Before discussing new developments, it is important to understand the basics. LPR still finds stolen vehicles, missing persons, wanted felons, and the other hotlist suspects. The cameras—once large, bulky, difficult to conceal and fit in patrol vehicles—have evolved into small, portable devices that are easy to hide in a covert enclosure. The footprint in a vehicle is now minimal, and agencies can be far more creative with their installations. Software installations, once complicated and extensive, are now relatively smooth and simple. Data included the date and time stamp of the read, and not much more. LPR software is now more analytical and used in real-time crime centers and everywhere in between, from crime analyst offices to patrol vehicles on the road.While connectivity to the Internet and data transfer once bogged down many agency pipelines—so much so that some vendors had to offload their LPR data to USB drives for manual data transfer—now communications in a vehicle, at a pole, or even on a portable trailer is as simple as connecting a modem. Instant reads and alerts make traffic stops quicker and safer for the officers interacting with the system. Remote viewing allows for interaction with a dispatcher or RTCC officer instantly. Immediate updates to hotlists for BOLOs and Missing Person Alerts make finding those persons faster. This speed also allows for easier maintenance and updating of the system software remotely, reducing manpower hours involved with routine updates.

LPR data is safe and contains no personally identifiable information (PII). LPR data security has recently come under fire and people want to know, “Is my data safe?” First, be clear that there is no “personal information” involved to compromise. Someone cannot hack into an LPR database and get your name, address, and social security number because that data simply is not present. LPR data includes information pertaining to vehicle tag numbers that are on wanted lists. This data is encrypted and sent over secure public safety VPNs and direct connections versus free wireless hotspots to offload every few hours.

With the basics of the LPR foundation out of the way, advancements that you will find currently among the top suppliers of the equipment are helping cities across the world. Better cameras, better illumination, better software, and better analytics are what you see now. Organizations like homeowners’ associations, banks, healthcare providers, and college campuses now use LPR for their security. Partnering with law enforcement, they help build networks that can speak to each other and help solve crimes uniformly. Better search criteria including color/type recognition, geo locations, and more help with investigations when the tag number is unknown. Want to keep someone off your property, or out of an area that has been trespassed? Use LPR! Want to speed up the parking enforcement process? Use LPR! Want to integrate cameras at the entrance to your community to help officers solve home break-ins? Use LPR!  LPR owners are now able to rely on DOD certified hosting and data storage providers to handle the security in the transmission and storage of data. Previously, this was a nightmare of setting up policy exemptions so the cameras could “talk” and communicate to off-site servers. However, with complex security policies in place that are configurable based on level of security needed, companies such as NDI Recognition Systems (NDIRS) in Winter Springs, Fla., are stepping up the game. By working with each agency to provide a safe, solid hosting service and maintaining the system behind the scenes, they can ensure security at every read, every time.

Integration with third parties to offer the “all-in-one” approach makes it easy for additional data capture, easier installation with PoE technology, and faster processors. Departments can invest in a tool that can incorporate their needs and make them their own. License plate readers, with the right vendor, have the capability to bring most of their technology platforms into one package. NDI Recognition Systems has been a front runner in the LPR industry since its inception in the United States. Built on a solid backbone and enhanced with continual research and development, NDIRS has everything fleets need. Funding can be difficult, but NDIRS offers free grant assistance and leasing options. They are available to help agencies overcome any obstacles, so they can get the most out of their plate reader investment.  Armed with this information, when will YOU step into the next generation of license plate readers?


Leonardo’s ELSAG Technologies and Systems photo 1
Leonardo’s ELSAG Technologies and Systems
Within the last few years, Leonardo has launched next-generation advancements of both their fixed and mobile ELSAG automatic license plate reader (ALPR) systems. These two systems are the cornerstone for many other ELSAG ALPR solutions and applications. Below are the noteworthy technical advancements.
The mobile ALPR system is more rugged than ever and very cost-effective. Cameras are smaller but offer an expanded field-of-view. The processor box is more compact, too, and now mounts anywhere, regardless of weather conditions, increasing the kinds of missions it can assist. Despite robust performance of their Gen-7 mobile system, its power consumption is low.
The current fixed ALPR system also performs better and costs less thanks to power-over-ethernet (POE) technology. The housing includes the camera and the processor, and the system reads plates from up to 115 feet away, increasing its mission adaptability.
A key component to the success of ELSAG ALPR system deployments lies in the ELSAG Enterprise Operations Center (ELSAG EOC) data management center. While some may be familiar with the ELSAG EOC, the advancements in its flexibility and ease of use for officers are making it easier for police to outsmart burglars, traffickers, and kidnappers. This software makes it easy for investigators to query and analyze ALPR data to find the intel that can help solve cases faster. The ELSAG EOC allows users to set criteria for the information they want, then dig down as deep as they want. How many black vans were in a specific area of the city on Monday nights between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. in the last six months with a license plate number that begins with the letter F or E? The search results offer a good place to start. Leonardo now offers customers cloud storage for their ELSAG ALPR data. ELSAG Cloud Storage Service (ECSS) is a CJIS-compliant virtual server powered by Amazon Web Services® and is ideal for small agencies without an IT department. Customers enjoy easy, on-demand access to their ALPR data without the costs or headaches associated with maintaining a server. Ownership of ALPR data stored on the ECSS remains the property of their customers, never to be accessed, used, or shared by Leonardo.
Leonardo’s ELSAG Technologies and Systems photo 4
New Applications of ELSAG ALPR Systems
The ELSAG VPH900, one of Leonardo’s newest solutions, aids the perimeter security of campuses, military bases, manufacturing facilities, and more, by offering the benefits of ELSAG ALPR technology using standard IP video cameras. The VPH900 extracts ALPR data from the video footage—license plate number, date and time stamps, and the ID of the camera that recorded the video—providing security personnel more information than IP cameras alone. The VPH900 can process plate numbers to see if suspicious ones show up on law enforcement hot lists. This solution is ideal for real-time security and for assisting investigations.

Leonardo’s fixed ALPR systems are emerging as solutions for parking and tolling management, saving customers substantial time and money by automating key processes. Instead of comparing license plates to law enforcement hot list databases to find suspect vehicles, the plate numbers are compared to databases of authorized or white-listed plate numbers to permit vehicles into a restricted area.  Imagine a parking deck that charges vehicles based on the amount of time parked. Drivers can prepay for a permit to get into the lot. As their vehicle enters, our fixed ALPR system reads the license plate and compares it to the white list of permit holders validating its right to enter.  A deck or lot can also charge based on time parked. Fixed cameras read each license plate as it enters the lot, and as it exits, they record the date and time. The duration of time parked determines the parking fee.

There are more robust aspects of Leonardo’s parking management solution that can assist with payment latency, parking overbooking, parking overflow, and much more. This technology is a game-changer for parking lots with attendants and enforcement patrols. ALPR white-listing effortlessly validates permits for toll or HOV lane access. For those traveling in an HOV lane, if an ELSAG ALPR camera reads your license plate, you had better be on the HOV lane white list!

ELSAG SpeedEnforcer helps police manage speeding in areas that are hard to enforce due to environmental risks—construction zones, school zones, tunnels, and more. Fixed or mobile cameras read license plates as vehicles enter and exit specific stretches of road. The data captured allows the system to identify speeders using distance-over-time calculations. Police waiting outside of the dangerous zone receive real-time alerts for each speeder and can safely pull over the driver.
Leonardo’s ELSAG Technologies and Systems photo 2
Creative Uses of ELSAG ALPR Systems
In addition to helping law enforcement fight vehicle-related crimes of any kind, our customers are using ELSAG ALPR systems for humanitarian missions to keep their residents safe during crises unrelated to crime.  Police in an Outer Banks, N.C., island community deployed their ELSAG ALPR systems to find residents who stayed on the island during a mandatory evacuation during Hurricane Dorian last fall. ALPR cameras recorded the plate numbers of vehicles exiting the island to determine which registered vehicles did not leave. The homes associated with those vehicles were visited by police to warn of the risks of remaining on the island.
ELSAG fixed systems helped Buenos Aires, Argentina decrease dangerous traffic congestion in an area of their city. City officials set up a system where certain vehicles can enter the hazardous area on certain days, dictated by the first letter of their plate number; A-F can enter on Mondays, G-K on Tuesdays, etc. Every driver knows the rules, and every driver crossing into the restricted area can see the license plates of every other driver doing the same thing. How? Fixed ALPR cameras are reading every license plate, and each one displays in real time on huge digital signs for all to see. Not only are drivers encouraged to comply voluntarily, but law enforcement has a record of the offenders.  Leonardo is more dedicated than ever to advancing license plate recognition technologies for the safety and security of communities worldwide, and they remain unequivocally committed to the fair and legal use of their ALPR technologies and the valuable information they provide law enforcement.
– Sheri Taynor is the National Sales Manager at NDI Recognition Systems.
– PFM Staff
– Photos courtesy of Jim Craige Photography & NDI Recognition Systems