License Plate Readers for Law Enforcement

License Plate Readers for Law Enforcement: Opportunities and Obstacles

Keith Gierlack
Shara Williams
Tom LaTourrette
James M. Anderson
Lauren A. Mayer
Johanna Zmud
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: RAND Corporation
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  • Book Info
    License Plate Readers for Law Enforcement
    Book Description:

    Because license plate reader (LPR) technology is relatively new in the United States, opportunities and obstacles in its use in law enforcement are still under exploration. To examine issues about this technology, RAND conducted interviews with law enforcement personnel, police officers, and others responsible for procuring, maintaining, and operating the systems.

    eISBN: 978-0-8330-8655-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Preface
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  4. Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Summary
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  8. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    In 2011, New York City detectives arrested Luis Zeldon in the killing of Andy Herrera in Queens. A primary analytic tool used in this homicide investigation and arrest was a system of license plate readers (LPRs) located throughout the city. After Zeldon was identified as the main suspect, police turned to the city’s LPR database to help identify his possible hideouts, based on location information on his vehicle. A digital map created from the system’s records helped police identify an address near the victim that was associated with Zeldon. This led officers directly to his location, where he was found...

  9. CHAPTER TWO Framing the LPR Environment
    (pp. 7-22)

    RAND conducted a literature review to understand current LPR use, to frame its operating environment, and to guide our interviews with law-enforcement participants. This chapter also covers descriptions of the LPR systems’ case uses, costs, benefits, and challenges, and privacy issues. LPR technology was invented in the mid-1970s in the United Kingdom. In the early 1990s, Britain responded to terrorism by the Provisional Irish Republican Army by establishing a surveillance and security network around London called the “ring of steel.” It mainly relied on closed circuit TV cameras to increase police awareness in the city. Starting in 1997, officials installed...

  10. CHAPTER THREE Methodology
    (pp. 23-28)

    There is a dearth of academic research on the benefits and challenges of the rapidly spreading LPR technology. Existing studies have provided aggregated survey results, are advocacy focused, or have targeted a single-use case. Earlier works only touch on peripheral issues, such as interoperability, system structure, overall system cost, and operational procedures across a broad spectrum of uses. In developing our methodology, we sought to perform nuanced and detailed research, gathering the perspectives of a variety of personnel involved in installing, using, and maintaining LPR systems.

    To gather needed information, RAND carried out case studies through exploratory interviews with personnel...

  11. CHAPTER FOUR LPR Uses in Different Operational Environments
    (pp. 29-36)

    We used three analytical lenses that would provide unique perspectives on how LPR systems are used and structured. We concentrated on relevant elements of the technology where we determined we could add to the knowledge base of literature on this topic. We focused on categories dealing with resources, information-sharing, operating environment and policies on these systems’ use.

    First, we examined this technology’s use based on department size and jurisdictional population. This let RAND see how differences in resource levels and sizes of operating environments affect police use of plate reader equipment. We also explored the unique environments for LPR systems’...

  12. CHAPTER FIVE The Legal Aspect of LPR Privacy Concerns
    (pp. 37-48)

    License plate readers and the vast amounts of data they collect raise substantial privacy concerns. A police agency or private corporation conceivably could track the whereabouts of any particular automobile, providing information about a wide range of a person’s private life, history, religion, or personal beliefs. As one court recently put it, “Disclosed in [location] data… will be trips the indisputably private nature of which takes little imagination to conjure: trips to the psychiatrist, the plastic surgeon, the abortion clinic, the AIDS treatment center, the strip club, the criminal defense attorney, the by-the-hour motel, the union meeting, the mosque, synagogue...

  13. CHAPTER SIX Common Themes and Challenges in LPR Use
    (pp. 49-60)

    An important characteristic of RAND’s research was the analysis of case study data from multiple perspectives. We present our findings as themes that surfaced from comments in the case studies, with data access and information retention policies having a highlighted role. We discuss technology-driven themes, operationally driven themes, privacy, and the benefits and challenges of the technology.

    It is important to remember that the key finding regarding the information RAND collected through the case studies is that LPR is useful for any type of case, depending on the support the system has inside the department. And, as stated in Chapter...

  14. CHAPTER SEVEN Agency Lessons Learned
    (pp. 61-70)

    Here are a number of agencies’ self-identified “lessons learned.” They are classified as either

    actions/knowledge agencies believed would have been helpful to undertake/understand when they first adopted this technology, and/or

    concepts they believed would be helpful for other agencies to consider as they decide to adopt and deploy the technology.

    We summarize these lessons and offer commentary on a number of them, describing benefits or potential areas of concern.

    Federal grants paid for the vast majority of LPR systems for the agencies RAND interviewed for this study; most of the grants came from Homeland Security for antiterrorism applications. As such,...

  15. CHAPTER EIGHT Conclusions
    (pp. 71-76)

    While technology in its many current forms is improving the efficiency and effectiveness of police officers and agencies, LPR technology’s potential to enhance police work is commanding. It can scan exponentially more plates and match them against hotlists for a range of infractions or individuals of interest. It can alert officers who, freed from the task of plate scanning and manual entries, may choose whether to act, working with greater information (including photos of targeted vehicles) than before. LPR systems also can allow investigators to analyze stored data for a wide variety of law-enforcement activities and investigations.

    Because of its...

  16. APPENDIX A Case Study Summaries
    (pp. 77-92)
  17. APPENDIX B Interview Protocol
    (pp. 93-98)
  18. References
    (pp. 99-102)