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How to turn your in-car video system into a license plate reader

Integrate ALPR into your agency’s in-vehicle camera system to leverage existing technology and expand the range of real-time data available

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Smart ALPR technology leverages your in-car camera system to surface real-time data and alerts.

image/BodyWorn by Utility

Sponsored by Utility Inc.

By Laura Neitzel for Police1 BrandFocus

According to a report from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the first automatic license plate reader technology was developed in the U.K. in 1976. ALPR cameras were first linked to police databases to help scout for threats during a wave of IRA terrorist bombings in London in 1997.

In the years since, ALPR technology has become an important tool for law enforcement.

“ALPR automates a tedious, distracting, and manual process that officers regularly complete in their daily operations of searching for wanted vehicles. ALPR systems vastly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of officers in identifying vehicles of interest among the hundreds or thousands they observe during routine patrol. In doing so, ALPR can identify that needle in a haystack – the stolen car, the vehicle wanted in connection with a robbery or a child abduction, or the vehicle registered to a missing person.”International Association of Chiefs of Police

While the use of ALPR technology by law enforcement agencies has boomed in recent years, the historical cost of the technology means that many agencies are able to purchase only a few systems. Fewer ALPRs in use means fewer “eyes” looking out for wanted suspects, stolen vehicles or missing persons.

Utility has been working with Sony, in a mutual partnership, to help solve this accessibility problem by adding ALPR capabilities to its RocketIoT in-car camera systems. This will help put advanced ALPR technology within reach for more agencies.

Expand the capabilities of existing technology

Utility’s ALPR system utilizes artificial intelligence with its existing technology, essentially turning an agency’s existing RocketIoT in-vehicle cameras into automatic license plate readers to catalog license plates and capture searchable metadata along with video data. That way, agencies can capture significantly more data from each vehicle at a fraction of the cost of a conventional ALPR system.

“The camera is very efficient at doing this one thing: capturing images,” said Simon Araya, Utility’s chief technology officer. “We have cameras that can capture and analyze 30 pictures per second, allowing us to process a lot more data using artificial intelligence than a human being can process.”

Delegating the image recognition to artificial intelligence also frees the officer from having to enter license plate numbers manually into the mobile data terminal. Instead of putting the burden on the officer to search suspicious plates, the ALPR system continually scans its surroundings, automatically alerting the officer of any hot-listed plate that comes within the wide-angle view of any of the vehicle’s cameras.

“We have multiple cameras in the vehicle pointing in different directions, so you can process cars ahead of you as well as cars passing you in the opposite direction,” said Araya. “And if the agency has more than one vehicle, every camera in every vehicle gets the data, processes the data and decides whether there should be an alert.”

Obtain real-time information for greater situational awareness

Utility’s ALPR technology provides real-time connectivity to hotlists from the NCIC, FBI and other state and local data sources through its RocketIoT in-car video system and AVaiLWeb evidence management platform. The AVaiLWeb platform also gives command staff and dispatchers visibility into the situation so they can make informed decisions about intercepting the vehicle, based not only on the hot plate but on other data like vehicle speed and location.

For instance, when the ALPR identifies a plate belonging to a stolen vehicle or a suspect who is known to be violent, the integrated BodyWorn ecosystem sends alerts not just to the in-vehicle mobile data terminal, but also to any internet-enabled device.

The alerting system can not only alert the officer whose ALPR detected the stolen vehicle, but also send alerts to other officers in the vicinity. The alerts are configurable to the user’s departmental policies and can be sent within a user-defined radius of the detection vehicle or according to any number of other events that can trigger an alert.

Real-time alerts and automatic recording

The BodyWorn system already includes technology that activates an officer’s bodycam in the event an officer’s firearm is unholstered or an officer goes down, or for events otherwise configured according to department policy. Now the ALPR will be part of the same system.

Utility’s RocketIoT in-vehicle communication platform powers up to four video cameras that are used as both ALPR and recording devices. Because Utility’s products automate bodycam and in-vehicle camera recordings based on pre-defined triggers, the officer responding to a situation does not need to be concerned about activating the cameras while in the heat of a dangerous situation.

“Once a license plate is flagged, our application can automatically start recording and go back a minute and capture everything that was happening around the vehicle,” said Araya.

Utility’s RocketIoT in-vehicle communication platform combines a wireless access point with an integrated digital media recorder to serve as an all-in-one communication and evidence management device that records, captures and stores video footage to secure, cloud-based storage.

It also communicates with vehicle sensors to control recording when a specific set of vehicle sensor events occur, such as when the light bar is activated, the door is opened or the vehicle accelerates to a certain speed. RocketIoT also includes dual SIM card slots for switching between carriers to maintain a reliable connection to the internet.

Because the system is integrated, even if an officer leaves the vehicle, the RocketIoT continues to communicate with his or her BodyWorn camera, which also serves as an audio device. All of these features provide critical advantages for officer safety.

“In a critical situation, even if the officer is walking farther away from the vehicle, you have this clear audio that’s being recorded and sent to the RocketIoT,” said Araya. “You have front camera view, rear view, bodycam view, audio from the car, audio from the officer – all of it available so you can have total situational awareness during a critical situation, as well as video evidence after the fact.”

In addition to the mobile ALPR application, Utility is developing a fixed ALPR application for deployment in parking lots, on traffic lights or with other infrastructure to monitor situations in real time.

A force multiplier

Araya thinks one of the most important features of the new ALPR technology is that it integrates with the in-car system, body camera and digital evidence management system that agencies may already have in place today.

Araya expects this will put ALPR technology in the hands of more officers, thus helping law enforcement identify hot list plates and more quickly locate missing persons and BOLOs when every second counts. Additionally, it expands their ability to recover stolen vehicles and apprehend ticket and registration scofflaws.

“If you could put this on even two or three times the number of vehicles than have traditional ALPR technology, you’re going to get that much more data,” said Araya. “That allows you to catch plates that you may not have seen before.”