Jul 03 2023

Fact or Fallacy: Automated License Plate Readers Boost Public Safety

Law enforcement agencies benefit from this rapidly evolving video surveillance technology.

Automated license plate readers, which are high-speed camera systems typically mounted on poles or streetlights, have become a valuable tool in law enforcement to track and identify vehicles, particularly those involved in criminal activity. Today, ALPRs have many other use cases beyond law enforcement. Still, misconceptions surrounding the technology can sometimes hinder its effectiveness.

Fact: ALPRs Can Help Recover Stolen Vehicles

ALPRs can quickly identify vehicles and alert law enforcement to their location. ALPR systems use high-speed cameras to take images of passing vehicles. The captured images are processed using optical character recognition technology, which identifies and extracts the license plate information from the images. The information is compared with a database of stolen or wanted vehicles. If the license plate comes up in the database, the ALPR system sends an alert to law enforcement officers in real time, so they can locate the vehicle.

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Fallacy: License Plate Accuracy Below 90 Percent Isn’t Acceptable

While high accuracy is desirable with ALPRs, there is no hard and fast rule about it. The acceptable level of accuracy may vary depending on the intended use of the ALPR technology. Factors such as poor lighting, obscured license plates and system errors can affect the accuracy of ALPRs. In some cases, a low accuracy rate may be satisfactory if the primary purpose of the ALPR is to gather intelligence rather than evidence for prosecution. Law enforcement agencies typically decide what the standard is based on their specific needs.

Fact: ALPRs Are Not a New Technology

ALPRs have been in development and use since the 1970s. The earliest ALPR systems were created to help police automate the process of identifying and tracking vehicles involved in criminal activity. While ALPRs aren’t new, widespread adoption took place in recent years due to several factors, including new technological advancements, increased demand for security and surveillance, broadening applications beyond law enforcement, and falling costs for the systems.

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Fallacy: ALPRs Are Very Expensive

Although some ALPR systems can be expensive, the cost of the technology has decreased significantly in recent years. Depending on the features being deployed, the cost of ALPRs varies dramatically, from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands for larger, more complex systems. However, there are now many affordable options on the market to fit the needs and budgets of different law enforcement agencies. The costs associated with ALPRs often outweigh the potential benefits they can provide, such as improved public safety, reduced crime rates and more efficient use of law enforcement resources.

Fact: ALPRs Have Many Different Uses

In addition to their use in law enforcement, ALPR systems can also be used to enhance traffic safety. Some agencies rely on ALPRs to monitor speed and detect red-light violators. The technology also is used for toll collection and pollution research by government agencies. Private businesses can utilize ALPR data for insurance claims or to investigate property crimes. Additionally, individuals and neighborhood associations can use ALPRs for home and public safety purposes. There are many other instances of nongovernment entities using ALPRs as their data processing and storage capabilities become cheaper and more widespread.

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Fallacy: Data Sharing Means Loss of Data Control

Data sharing can help law enforcement agencies identify and track vehicles involved in criminal activity. Many ALPR systems allow for real-time data sharing and integration with other systems, such as facial recognition technology, to enhance their effectiveness. Data sharing fosters better communication and cooperation between different law enforcement agencies, allowing them to work together on solving crimes and catching suspects. However, this is only true when data is shared securely and when access is restricted to authorized users.

Fact: Cloud Is a Good Option for ALPRs

Cloud-based ALPR systems offer several benefits, such as scalability, flexibility and lower infrastructure costs. Cloud-based systems allow real-time data access and processing from anywhere with an internet connection, making it easier for law enforcement agencies to share data with other agencies. They can also be quickly scaled up or down without agencies having to invest in costly hardware infrastructure. However, on-premises ALPR systems may be more suitable for agencies that have strict data requirements or limited internet connectivity.

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Fallacy: ALPRs Violate Privacy Rights

While there are legitimate concerns about privacy with ALPRs, such as the potential misuse of data and a lack of transparency, many law enforcement agencies have policies in place to protect the privacy of individuals. Some agencies limit the retention of data captured by ALPR systems and prohibit the use of the technology for mass surveillance. The use of ALPRs has been upheld in court in many jurisdictions as a lawful means of gathering information in public spaces. Ultimately, the question of whether ALPRs violate privacy rights depends on how they are deployed, regulated and overseen.

Fact: ALPR Technology Is Evolving Rapidly

With advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, ALPR systems are able to capture and analyze more data than ever before. The integration of ALPRs with AI analytics is enabling advanced applications, such as real-time crime prediction and traffic pattern analysis. This allows law enforcement agencies and city planners to make data-driven decisions and deploy resources in smarter ways. Additionally, improved data processing and storage capabilities can handle the massive volumes of data generated by ALPRs.

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