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6 things to look for when buying an LPR system

Consider your agency’s needs and goals when choosing an automatic license plate reader platform

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Mobile LPR cameras are less expensive and can be deployed quickly. Fixed cameras operate 24/7, providing nonstop data and surveillance from permanent locations such as light poles or overpasses. A good plan for deployment includes both.

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The following is paid content sponsored by ELSAG.

By Police1 BrandFocus Staff

License plate reader technology can be a useful tool on patrol as well as an important asset in investigations. It’s essential to understand various aspects of LPR before committing to a solution, but determining the needs and goals of your agency is the first step. Here are six key considerations to help you choose the right LPR system.

Image quality

LPR cameras capture plate images in two ways: interlaced or progressive. Interlaced images are recorded in two analog scans that capture every other line then combined to form the plate image. A progressive camera digitally records an image of the license plate and vehicle. This provides not only a sharper image of the license plate itself but also a bigger picture of the car and its surroundings, which provides useful information such as the make and model or distinguishing marks. Look for a system that uses progressive scanning to get the most for your money.

Cameras: fixed vs. mobile

It’s important to determine how many cameras your agency needs to be effective, as well as what kind and where the hot spots are. Mobile cameras are less expensive and can be deployed quickly. The downside is, once a patrol car is off duty, the LPR is not gathering data. Look for a system that can be moved between patrol vehicles for more flexibility and a greater return on investment.

Fixed cameras operate 24/7, providing nonstop data and surveillance from permanent locations such as light poles or overpasses. They are more expensive to install because of the infrastructure requirements, but they gather more data because a fixed camera is always running and reporting.

A good plan for deployment includes both, says Julio Valcarcel, a retired Maryland State Police sergeant and vice president of sales with ELSAG. He says choke points that naturally see heavy traffic, such as a bridge, are ideal places to put a fixed LPR camera. But if the bad guys start to figure out where your equipment is deployed, they may take alternate routes. Mobile cameras can help fill the gaps.

“A combination of both is the best strategy,” said Valcarcel. “Mobile trailers are a nice in-between. A trailer with a solar panel and one to four LPR cameras can be deployed quickly and moved according to various hot spots.”

Logistics and installment issues

Consider your available infrastructure and compare it to the logistic requirements of various LPR cameras. Cameras come in different sizes, from a miniature model that fits on a light bar to more conspicuous units roughly the size of a shoebox. Also consider how much cargo space is available in your cruisers compared to the size of the LPR processor unit.

Mounting hardware is needed to affix mobile cameras to vehicles and trailers. For example, ELSAG’s Tahoe Grill Mount System is a covert solution that houses all LPR components – cameras, sensor, processing unit, power source – behind the front grill. To maximize the mobility and uptime of the cameras, you’ll need mobile kits, often a set of powerful magnets, that enable easy swapping between vehicles.

Fixed cameras must be securely mounted to bridges, overpasses and other stationary structures. In many cases this requires securing proper permissions from a city, county or the state transportation department.


Power and data transmission are also key concerns. Most mobile LPR camera systems are powered by a 12-volt connection inside the patrol car, usually wired into the vehicle’s main power source. Fixed systems can be trickier, as these connections may not be readily available in preferred locations. If electrical power is not accessible, consider a solar-powered fixed camera.

Many LPR cameras, both fixed and mobile, transmit data over Wi-Fi, but some fixed cameras require a physical cable connection to the network. Mobile cameras are usually plugged into the computer in the vehicle, which in turn shares the LPR data wirelessly with the agency’s network. Check the communications infrastructure in your area and choose a system that best fits what you have to work with.

Data management and operations software

Look for operations software that includes both an in-vehicle application that provides alerts for patrol officers and back-end software that manages hot lists and incorporates the data coming in from the field. Some systems also include a website that allows authorized users to access data remotely. Look for features including permissions management, an audit trail that tracks system use and mapping/geolocation.

It’s critical to have a data management policy in place before launching an LPR program. A key element of any LPR policy is privacy and data access. Some vendors may provide guidance for training or best practices to help you create the policy, and IACP has a model policy that a lot of departments use as their platform. Look for a system with the ability to help satisfy concerns over potential misuse of the data.

Data sharing and storage

Agencies often need to share data with neighboring jurisdictions. Most vendors make it easy for their customers to share data with one another, but there is little interoperability between different LPR systems, so it’s important to do your research before committing to a solution. Look for a system that enables you to accept data from other external sources to build your hot lists. For example, ELSAG offers an application that allows integration of third-party data.

How many cameras and which kind you deploy will define your storage needs. Because of the greater volume of data produced by 24/7 operation, fixed cameras require more data storage. Also determine how long you will keep the data and your plans for growth. Choose a solution not just for what you need today but one that is scalable so that you can grow into it.

Many agencies start with an in-house server to retain full control and ownership of the data, but the amount of data can mushroom quickly to an expensive and difficult-to-manage level. Cloud storage via the internet can grow with the needs of your agency without requiring additional hardware or personnel. However, this option can be pricey and raises concerns about security and accountability. Your agency should always retain control and ownership of the data, no matter what vendor or storage solution you choose.

It’s important to plan ahead to choose the right LPR system for your agency. Consider your community’s needs and infrastructure, as well as data storage requirements and interoperability, before making a purchase.

For more information on license plate reader solutions, contact ELSAG.