Integrating LPR Software into City Infrastructure
Print Issue: May/June 2021
The same street that once hosted brothels and moonshiners in Ogden, Utah, is now home to the city police department’s latest crime deterrent project. Up and down 25th Street, multi-sensor cameras allow law enforcement to surveil and react to developing scenarios, just like many other jurisdictions throughout the United States.
The road from the past to the present for Ogden has had its fair share of obstacles, including increasing crime rates before 1990 that earned it the moniker of Utah’s “murder capital.” But the city’s administration began embracing technology and rethinking how to utilize and revitalize its infrastructure by the mid-90s, including supporting a redevelopment program.
Ogden Police Deputy Chief Eric Young says the city began updating its surveillance and investigative technology in 2009, such as investing in real-time crime scene software and installing hardware like Axis Communications video cameras.
While video surveillance has been an asset for the police department for roughly the past 30 years, Young says recent advancements in cameras’ abilities have allowed for dramatic improvements. “The ability and the capacity and the technology has changed from night to day,” he adds.
“Now we get smart cameras. We get cameras that react to movement. We get cameras that are going to notify us when there is certain movement in certain locations at certain times,” he explains. “They almost replace a human being in some places.”
Young credits the shift to smarter tools and software to the city’s IT department. “They’re always out and ahead of the game,” he says. And IT staff recommended both the Axis cameras and the police department’s latest surveillance accessory, license plate recognition (LPR) software.
“We actually had one of the first license plate recognition vehicles, which was that technology mounted on a car back in 2007,” Young says. But the department wanted a fixed solution, one that would run off the cameras placed throughout the city.
Many of the LPR technology solutions that Ogden police representatives initially came across were out of its price range. The department eventually found that the city’s cameras could also work with an LPR technology overlay, instead of requiring new hardware. With that news, the solution “was kind of a no-brainer to look at,” Young says.
The department had another goal in mind that it wanted from an LPR solution: a high-flow count to read approximately 7,500 license plates per week. This became a deciding factor in selecting Rekor Systems’ LPR solution, Watchman, configured for three Axis cameras along 25th Street—now a popular social scene featuring shops, bars, and restaurants.
Cameras were placed on either side of the street to maximize their ability to capture clear license plate images for both directions of traffic, even when traffic becomes congested or despite poor visibility factors, such as low light.
Ultimately, the pilot program was considered successful—it captured roughly 50,000 license plates each week.
“That’s something we paid attention to,” Young says. “The more reads we get, the more likely that we’re going to catch a suspect or gather actionable intelligence from that license plate reader.”
The LPR information is used by the city’s tactical analysis center—an internal crime center that operates in real-time—to cross reference data from alerts, including amber alerts, notices of stolen cars, and wanted vehicles, in addition to other investigations, Young adds. While those alerts have been aided by the LPR software and allow for timely notifications to law enforcement, Young explains that the technology has also benefited other investigative efforts.
If a hit-and-run occurs in a parking lot within the city, police officers identify if LPR is running on a surveillance camera near the incident or near city exit points. Analysts stationed at the city’s crime center can aid investigators by searching the software for certain vehicle types, makes, models, colors, or partial plates.
“Any of these things where we have some information, it just builds our capacity to build investigative leads,” Young says.
When an alert came in on a stolen vehicle, the immediate actions of an analyst—disseminating information on the vehicle’s description and location to nearby officers—resulted in the arrest of a suspect.
Investigators working cases can submit a request to the crime center for any information related to their investigation. Analysts research these requests, including if the LPR software has images of an associated license plate, and then send investigators an information package.
The system provides Ogden with bigger-picture intelligence on the vehicle in question—details that are easier for officers in patrol cars and air units to spot, but harder for suspects to disguise.
“Not only do we know the description from persons at the scene...we have an actual picture of the car, if there’s been damage to the car, if there’s a ski rack on the car, if they painted it a different color,” Young adds.
Young says he is looking forward to what additional cameras with LPR abilities could do for the rest of the city. The LPR units that are part of the city’s pilot program have already helped Ogden investigators quickly resolve incidents, including an infant’s kidnapping, but the system has also helped neighboring jurisdictions, specifically in locating a homicide suspect.
In the homicide investigation, camera surveillance stored in the Ogden database proved fruitful; images of the suspect three days before the murder placed the person in a Walmart parking lot. Ogden shared the photos of the suspect with the homicide investigators in the other jurisdiction, along with a picture of the suspect’s vehicle—which was more valuable than a rudimentary description of its make and model.
Ogden is part of the national initiative Project Safe Neighborhoods, and as part of the program it can invest further in LPR. The department plans to use LPR in about five square miles of the city that require more attention and resources to reduce violent crime. Additional surveillance technology like LPR is also expected to seep into other parts of the city, depending on the level of success within the initial target area.
“We’re just starting,” Young says. “We’re already seeing results from the small test program, and it’s going to begin rolling out full scale over the next few months.”
For more information about Axis Communications, email [email protected]