The use of License Plate Recognition Systems (LPR) is a growing trend in law enforcement nationwide and Towson University’s police department is joining the Maryland State LPR network to increase public safety. The implementation of LPR systems is on the rise due to the system’s capacity to maximize the use of an officer’s time and allow police departments to increase efficiency and recognition of violations. In March of 2011, the TUPD was awarded a License Plate Recognition System and funded by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention through the Edward J. Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant.
“LPR systems have existed for several years and the technology has steadily progressed to improve the system’s capabilities and the efficiency it can provide for law enforcement agencies,” TUPD Colonel Joe Herring said.
The system utilizes Optical Character Reading (OCR) technology, which operates similar to a computer scanner. The system records characters on tags and other readable text such as traffic signs and wording on commercial vehicles with 95% accuracy. It can read both reflective and non-reflective plates, and detect and run registration plates under even the worst weather conditions.
Currently, Towson University is activating a mobile system with two camera units mounted on the rear of a TUPD vehicle. The cameras connect to the vehicle’s laptop and GPS system. Each unit actually consists of two light-sensitive cameras: one that reads in the daylight and another that adjusts to the low levels of light at night. The cameras are able to capture readings from two lanes of traffic on both the right and left sides of the vehicle. The system reads the captured images off of a vehicle’s registration plate and transmits the information to a statewide database where it is compared to all registered vehicles and the State’s “hot list” of tags being flagged for offences such as being a stolen vehicle, having a stolen plate, and being associated with a wanted person or someone with a suspended or revoked license. If there’s a problem with any of the plate numbers, the system delivers feedback to the officers through visual and audible alerts. When an alert sounds, the officer must find the license plate identified, accept or decline the alarm and determine an appropriate action based on the urgency of the offence and the location of the vehicle.
“A moving or occupied vehicle that triggers an alarm gives us more incentive to approach the owner than vehicles sitting unoccupied in a parking garage, unless the alarm is notifying us of a serious offence. Also, some alarms need further investigation before taking any affirmative measure. For example, there may be multiple owners of one vehicle and the previous owner’s license may be the one triggering the alarm,” explained Sergeant Sam Hannigan.
Towson is expected to officially begin regularly using the LPR systems early this summer, pending the completion of training for its officers by the Maryland State Police Department. Once the system is up and running smoothly, the TUPD can continue pursuing future projects involving LPR, including fixed-placement of cameras at entrance and egress points on campus. The TUPD is currently awaiting the installation of fixed location cameras at the entrances to Emerson Drive. The department has applied for a grant to install additional fixed location cameras at the new main campus gateway and hopes to include other major access points to campus in the future.