FEATURED IN TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS
Editor's Note: I’ve spent a lot of time working with LPR technology and believe it has great value to law enforcement. Here’s a quick overview of important considerations for those with new or pending LPR programs.
No. 1—Maximize the Potential of the Technology
Early on, license plate recognition technolgoy (LPR) was praised for its ability to ferret out stolen vehicles, especially those that were still occupied. Over time, an even greater value has been realized in the LPR data—the reads. Investigators found that LPR provides great insight as to which vehicle was where and when.
To do this, though, you have to retain the information and that requires storage that can handle large volumes of data. A single LPR car can easily rack up 3,000–5,000 records in a shift. Pretty impressive, but you have to plan on where those reads are going and how they’ll get there. Some departments are still relying on USB drives to update hot lists and transfer end-of-shift reads, but wireless (cellular, mesh, hot spots, etc.) is a much better way to go. More importantly, the data must be securely stored yet immediately accessible to those who need it. Trust me on this: You’ll be miles ahead if you engage the person responsible for IT before you make a purchase. You’ll save a lot of time and frustration.
No. 2—When Starting a Program, Do Your Homework
First, have a basic understanding of what the LPR can and can’t do. You’ll get up to speed quickly by checking LawOfficer.com and using the keyword search “LPR.” Make sure you check out my two favorites: “Debunking 9 LPR Myths” and “Stolen Car King.” Also, ask around in your area to see what other agencies are using and pay them a visit. Get a read on their level of satisfaction with the hardware, the software and the customer support. Remember: There are two sides to the LPR operation: acquisition and query.
After a ride along, check with those who use the backend to conduct queries and have them show you what the software looks like and what it can do. If you like what you see, give some consideration to using the same system. This can pay off by giving you leverage with vendors, providing a resource for training and increasing the potential for easy sharing of LPR data (strongly recommended because crooks have been known to go from one town to another).
No. 3—LPR Funding can be a Challenge, But There’s Some Good News
- Prices have come down and capability has improved.
- LPR provides a great return on investment because it’s a proven force multiplier.
- Since LPR has both a crime-fighting and a homeland security benefit, there’s the potential for grant funding from both DOJ and DHS. Check with other agencies to find out how they got operational. Maybe you can even apply jointly for the next round of funding.
No. 4—Remember the Importance of Training and Policy
No matter how good the technology, it must be used properly to be effective and to prevent problems down the road. Again, check to see what other agencies are doing so you don’t have to start from scratch. And if they have someone who really seems to be an LPR expert, see if that person will share their secrets.
No. 5—A Big Decision: Retention Period (How Long You’ll Keep the Reads)
This varies a lot around the country, ranging from a matter of days to several years. Considerations:
- Agency mission. If you’re a traffic enforcement agency, a shorter retention might be appropriate because the focus may be on traffic-related incidents and stolen cars. Conversely, if your jurisdiction has problems with robberies, rapes and homicides, longer retention may be called for because investigations can take years to resolve.
- The longer you keep LPR data and the more units in the field, the more storage you will need. Storage costs money. One or two units probably won’t be a problem, but several units can pile up huge numbers quickly. Again, it will pay dividends to work with your IT person to figure out what will be needed.
- Database efficiency is impacted when millions of records are accessed every time a query is conducted. The longer you keep your reads, the more your system has to sort through to find the information. Users won’t tolerate slow returns.
- Be sensitive to privacy concerns. Even though LPR has huge public safety value, the longer you keep data, the greater the chance you’ll be challenged on the practice. As a general rule, retention periods of two and three years are common.
Regardless of what you decide, put it in a policy and work on having this in place before you put the units on the street.