How to buy police license plate readers
By Tim Dees
While privacy advocates condemn Automatic License Plate Recognition Readers (ALPR) systems as an intrusion into their right to move about freely and unmonitored, the cops using them are ecstatic, and their reasons have nothing to do with privacy concerns. ALPR is a force multiplier.
One officer with a mobile ALPR system may recover more stolen cars and locate more vehicles associated with wanted persons and scofflaws in a week than another would in a career. Here's a few things to consider when purchasing ALPR tech:
How they work
When it finds a match, the operator gets an audible alert, with his computer display showing an image of the whole car, the license plate, the machine's translation of that plate, and the reason the plate is on the list. The officer verifies the plate matches the one on the list, and decides whether to chase it down, direct another unit to do so, or just log the sighting. A passive, usually stationary system records all this for later review.
There's too much data to "run" each plate in real time, so only the internal list is used for comparison. That list can contain stolen vehicles or vehicles associated with wanted persons, those having expired or suspended licenses, those not carrying insurance, or cars with too many unpaid traffic tickets. Most users update the list daily and transfer it via a USB thumb drive.
"Back office" software
These systems are expensive, at $20K-$30K or more per vehicle. Because they do so well at locating stolen cars, some insurance organizations will assist with purchase.
Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement websites who writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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