Police Technology: Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR)

Law enforcement has adopted effective new technology to enhance patrol procedure strategies; however, new technology often invites critics over fears of privacy issues and possible abuse. The Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) is such a technology that is good for law enforcement and is controversial.

The Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) is an image-processing technology designed to identify vehicles license plates. The ALPR uses optical character recognition that deploys algorithms to transform pixels of an image into text allowing the display of the license plate number.

Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) technology can scan about 60 license plates per second. For example, if an officer is using side mounted ALPR cameras and driving in a parking lot with many vehicles such as a shopping mall, the officer can quickly scan the vehicles parked to check for stolen vehicles or plates. The ALPR system interfaces with the patrol vehicles software alerting to a possible stolen vehicle in the database. The officer then just needs to verify the vehicle or tag as stolen in the FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database through the dispatching system.

Automated License Plate Recognition

Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) Applications

ALPR technology has many different type of applications:

  • Parking management
  • Tollbooth management
  • US Boarder management
  • Vehicle repossession (Bank auto-loan) management

ALPR technology has the possibility of mounting in many different locations:

  • Vehicle grill
  • Patrol vehicle light bar
  • On the vehicle body
  • On a utility pole
  • In a construction zone barrel
  • Bridge
  • Highway sign




Lum, Merola, Willis, and Cave (2010) stated that ALPR technology makes policing efficient, and has a positive impact in the deterrence of vehicle theft.

The Future of Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR)

Law enforcement agencies have argued that ALPR technology is an effective patrol tool. Will the ALPR continued as a valuable tool for law enforcement?

We cannot expect law enforcement to be effective if we restrict the use of technology. There needs to be policies in place as to how the data is used, stored, and shared but we should not limit the use of technology out of fear when our officers are working hard to protect their communities.

Automated License Plate Readers/State Statues Regulating Their Use.


About the Author

Mark Bond

Mark Bond has worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms instructor for more than 33 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in criminal justice, and M.Ed in educational leadership with Summa Cum Laude honors. As a lifelong learner, he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education (EdD) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a community college.

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