The City of Greenville has conducted a year-long pilot program to determine how Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) technology can be used to enhance crime solvability. The City leased the technology from Flock Safety, an Atlanta-based startup, which installed 11 solar-powered wireless readers throughout the Central Business District (CBD) in January. Recent improvements in the cost, flexibility and mobility of ALPR technology prompted the Greenville Police Department (GPD) to pursue the study, which was funded through the Federal Asset Forfeiture program. The total cost of the project, which supports a GPD strategic goal to develop or adapt equipment, technologies and facilities to increase safety and quality of life, solve crime and enhance organizational efficiency and effectiveness, was $22,000.
The ALPR system automatically integrates with the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) “hotlist” of stolen vehicles, which is compiled based on information gathered from state agencies and updated daily. In addition to the NCIC’s data, GPD is also able to enter information about vehicles involved in crimes within its jurisdiction in the system. The readers automatically capture the license plate of every vehicle that passes by, day or night, unless the plate is obscured. If the system reads the license plate of a wanted vehicle, an alert is sent to GPD within seconds and the camera records the date, time, location, tag number and vehicle details such as type and color. The system does not identify individuals and does not use facial recognition technology. Other measures designed to ensure privacy include:
- The supplier never shares, sells or monetizes the data
- All data is stored in a securely encrypted cloud server and is automatically deleted every 30 days
- GPD does not maintain a database of information from the ALPR system
While GPD does not have the capability of determining how many license plates have been read since January, as of November 16, it had received 587 alerts from the system for four categories: stolen vehicles, stolen plates, wanted/warrants and missing persons. Subsequently, those alerts resulted in several “recovered” categories: firearms (13), drugs (49), stolen property (21), warrants (11), stolen plates (47) and stolen vehicles (52).
According to Dr. Lee Hunt, Strategic Planning and Analysis Administrator for GPD, based on the results from the pilot program in the CBD, the City plans to purchase 14 additional readers and may test the technology in other areas of the city. He cites the following among the technology’s many benefits:
- Can enhance solvability through positive ID of vehicles involved in crime
- Can complement security video footage in vehicle identification
- Can provide immediate leads for responding officers
- Can help officers quickly intercept stolen automobiles and criminals after an event
- Can provide useful follow-up information to detectives (even partial tag searches)
- Can now provide public/private partnerships between neighborhoods and police
“In addition to removing personal bias, license plate readers are a force multiplier for our hardworking police officers,” said Hunt. “The selective use of technology continues to play an important role in law enforcement, with tools like this providing new, more effective ways to solve crimes and increase public safety in our community.”
The department already has policies in place for the ALPR system, and once the program moves beyond the pilot phase, will implement standard operating procedures to guide the use of the technology.