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4 ways license plate readers can boost your agency’s effectiveness

Increase patrol officers’ productivity and enhance your agency’s investigative reach using LPR cameras and hot list data

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The following is paid content sponsored by ELSAG.

By Police1 BrandFocus Staff

Imagine what you could do with an extra set of eyes.

That’s the kind of boost an automatic license plate reader system provides. LPR systems scan passing cars and check for alerts while an officer is driving or conducting other routine police business, making your agency’s patrol operations more efficient and providing key assistance for investigations.

An LPR system comprises three elements: the cameras collecting the information, the operations software that compares the incoming data and sends alerts, and the agency and officers who are acting on that information. LPR technology can help police agencies improve four key areas of operation:

1. More productive patrols

It’s impossible for an officer to look at every single plate he or she encounters. But LPR cameras can read much faster than the human eye and are focused solely on collecting plate data, making them a force multiplier for patrol officers.

In an instant, license plate information is captured and checked against a hot list of suspects, missing persons, Amber Alerts, etc., and the system alerts the officer when it finds a match. The system also logs the time, date and location, which can be shared with other units and agencies.

“This tool enables the officer to have an extra set of eyes specifically looking for license plates,” said Pete Kontos, a former senior Investigator with the New York State Police auto theft unit and now vice president of ELSAG, a leading manufacturer of LPR systems. “It clearly allows the officer to be doing multiple functions, and one of them is just driving safely.”

LPR is also a useful tool for parking enforcement. Instead of patrolling on foot and manually checking all the plates in a given area, a parking enforcement officer can drive down the street with the LPR system running and quickly identify any vehicles that need to be ticketed, booted or towed.

2. Safer streets and roadways

A motor vehicle accident occurs every five seconds in the United States, and someone is injured in a crash every 10 seconds, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. A survey conducted by the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the New York State Police found that a person driving without insurance is 68 percent more likely to be involved in an accident than an insured driver.

Data from insurance companies and your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles can help you target these scofflaw drivers using an LPR system. Removing unregistered and uninsured drivers from the road reduces the chance of them causing accidents, which means your police agency has done a better job of protecting the community.

3. Safer stops for officers

A suspended or revoked registration may also indicate a bigger problem, Kontos said. Unregistered or stolen plates are often used by dangerous criminals, and what starts as a routine traffic stop can escalate quickly.

“There are gun arrests and drug arrests that have been made – you can pick a category and any penal law in any state, and you probably have found somebody wanted in one of those categories because of the LPR hitting on an unregistered plate,” he said.

LPR alerts officers when approaching vehicles in which a dangerous suspect is likely present. If a plate is entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database or associated with a violent crime in whatever state or local hot list the agency is using, the patrol officer receives a warning immediately upon encountering that vehicle and can take extra precautions or call for backup.

4. More thorough investigations

LPR can also be a force multiplier for investigations, helping to locate persons of interest, suspects and missing persons. In addition to the NCIC data, you can use the information from your state Department of Motor Vehicles to link suspects to license plates and create a specific hot list for your agency’s needs. The LPR then becomes an investigative tool as the cameras watch for those plates and alert officers on patrol to take action.

An LPR system also keeps a record of where and when it has captured a given plate, providing evidence of a suspect’s movements. Kontos shared an example in which LPR pinpointed a murder suspect, recounted in the 2007 annual report of the New York State Police:

On her way to an unrelated call one night, a New York State trooper drove by a house where a family of five would soon be found murdered after a house fire. The LPR camera on the cruiser had captured one of the suspects’ vehicles parked in front of the burned house just 10 minutes before the alarm was sounded. Investigators used this evidence to disprove the suspects’ alibis, and both were eventually convicted.

“They’re both serving multiple life sentences,” Kontos said. “It’s a very powerful tool.”

An automatic license plate reader system can help make your agency’s patrol operations and investigations more efficient. Cameras provide extra sets of eyes on the road, and the system enables you to check national and state hot lists for alerts, as well as build your own lists for specific issues. Operations centers store, analyze and share this information with other agencies, which can improve patrol officers’ safety during traffic stops and enhance the reach of investigations.

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