A police cruiser rolls down the road, the officers inside heading back to headquarters at the end of their shift. It's nearly 3 AM, traffic is light, and what few cars they pass are traveling at the speed limit: 65 mph. A blue car zips by them in the opposite direction, no faster than the others… Yet a few minutes later, the officers pull the car over. The driver owes thousands of dollars for parking violations. How was he caught by tired officers, on a dark road, the cars passing each other at 130 mph? He wasn't.
Protecting the public is a challenge in the best of times. These days, with limited budgets and ever-present security concerns, the task grows more difficult every day. What if there was a way to increase patrol effectiveness and boost intelligence gathering capabilities, without increasing headcount? What if you could find more stolen vehicles, track felons and drug dealers, and recover revenue from deadbeat violators, all while freeing personnel from a time-consuming, tedious task? That's the promise – and reality – of Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) from Motorola and PIPS Technology, a Federal Signal company.
In a single shift, an officer can manually check 50-100 license plates. During the same shift, an ALPR system can check 5,000 plates or more. Not surprisingly, police are the most enthusiastic adopters of ALPR technology. The technology has been put to many uses by law enforcement:
An ALPR system must be able to locate license plates in its environment, photograph the plates at highway speeds and despite weather conditions, convert the photo into a license number, and make a decision as to whether to alert the officer, record the encounter, or disregard the information – in seconds. This requires top-grade photographic and processing hardware.
Motorola and PIPS have worked together to create a leading-edge ALPR solution with unparalleled power, intelligence, and flexibility.
It is a mistake to think that cameras suited for video surveillance can also be used for ALPR. An ALPR camera needs to have the shutter speed and sensitivity to permit use in low light and poor visibility, while at the same time be able to react to ever-changing light conditions as the police vehicle is moving. The camera needs to capture video in full-color as well as infra-red, virtually simultaneously. Because it rides on the outside of a police vehicle, the camera needs to be protected from the elements, a vehicle's vibration, and shock PIPS' Slate cameras will not only handle the optics and capture, but also provide some data processing, ensuring a higher-quality capture and lessening the load on the Workstation in the vehicle. Their low profile also allows Slate cameras to blend in discreetly and not interfere with the light bar.
The best cameras in the world will be of no use if the information they capture is not properly recorded, analyzed, and acted on. ALPR software needs to convert license plate photographs into alphanumeric license plate numbers, accurately and instantaneously. Accuracy is key: missed hits – or worse yet, false positives – will cause officers to ignore alarms. Finally, a system's user interface should be designed with a busy officer in mind – PIPS' PAGIS software is unobtrusive during routine patrol, only sounding an alarm when action is needed. Customizable color codes reinforce alarm descriptions: a different color can be used for a parking scofflaw vs. a stolen vehicle or carjacker, making it easy to make the correct decision in seconds.
ALPR systems can generate vast amounts of data: database hits, GPS coordinates, time of day, photographs, plate numbers, and more. Back at headquarters, BOSS turns this data into useful intelligence. BOSS is designed to enable law enforcement agencies to organize and archive data collected from multiple mobile and fixed site ALPR deployments. Users can query the data using multiple search parameters including time, date, full or partial plate, location and user. BOSS can also map all locations related to a single plate to track vehicle movements. The BOSS web interface allows data to be easily shared across multiple locations and agencies.