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Why Do Police Officers Record License Plates?

by Nathan Zachary
record license plates

Many police cars today come equipped with automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) technology. What is this technology? Why would a police car need to record license plates? Many citizens today have these questions, as they feel this technology invades their privacy. However, this system actually protects them from harm. What should they know about ALPR and its benefits?

What is an ALPR System?

An automatic license plate recognition system includes three components. A camera within the vehicle records every license plate within its scanning range. When doing so, it may gather other information as well. This would include the date and time the plate was captured along with the location of the vehicle which displayed the plate.

Once this image has been captured, a computer in the police car analyzes the images and extracts and digitizes the plate information. If the plate matches one that appears on a law enforcement hot list, the officer manning the camera is alerted.

The Next Steps

When officers receive alerts from the ALPR system, they need to confirm whether the license plate on the vehicle is the same as the digitized image. They do so by comparing the information received from the system to the vehicle displaying the plate. For instance, they ensure the make and model of the vehicle match in the system and in person. They also look at the year and color of the vehicle. This helps them to find vehicles with stolen license plates, for example.

Identifying Information

What many people do not realize is the system supplies them with information about who owns the vehicle and whether their license is suspended. The system provides information about whether the owner is a male or female and whether they wear corrective lenses. The officer may also rely on data from other systems when the ALPR system sends an alert.

Accurate Matches

If all information matches, the office may take further action. For instance, they can cite the driver for failing to renew their plates or determine whether a person with a suspended license is driving the vehicle. This valuable tool makes it easier for law enforcement to do its job by removing some of the guesswork.

The Drawbacks

However, there are times when the system cannot accurately capture information from a license plate. For instance, if a portion of the plate is covered by mud or debris, the system cannot read the plate accurately. At times, it may capture the plate number but not the issuing municipality. Law enforcement officers must man the system and ensure each alert is valid. However, the administrator may set the system up in a way that allows the computer to record all license plates and store them to ensure nothing is missed.

Law enforcement officers encounter dangerous situations every day. The more information they have when going into a citizen encounter, the easier it becomes to identify potential risks. This ALPR technology allows them to know more about a vehicle and who is driving it when they do a traffic stop, which is considered one of the most dangerous tasks they take on. It’s one more way to keep these individuals safe as they work to protect the public.

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