• United States



by Jeff Vance

Plates Don’t Lie

Jun 01, 20052 mins
Data and Information Security

Automatic plate recognition helps Ohio troopers nab criminals

Automatic plate recognition (APR) is a type of technology that helps authorities find stolen cars. Police officers can use the technology to scan license plates when drivers stop to pay tolls, and police cars patrolling the highway can be equipped with roving scanners. In a pilot that took place in Ohio, scanned plate numbers were matched with numbers catalogued in the state’s crime database. Based on the National Crime Information Center’s (NCIS) database, Ohio’s database includes not only stolen-vehicle plates but also plates of people wanted by law-enforcement agencies across the country.

During the four-month pilot, the Ohio State Highway Patrol apprehended 23 criminal suspects and recovered 24 stolen vehiclesa 50 percent spike in recoveries on the highway compared with the the year before.

But the system is not without its shortcomings. Because it simply scans for characters and not patterns, it cannot recognize what state a plate is from or any other distinguishing vehicle characteristics. Thus a trooper who receives an alert of a possible stolen vehicle while on patrol has a lot of plate permutations and vehicle types to sort through while searching for the suspect. Another issue is the chance for false positives. If the driver of a vehicle with a Florida plate is wanted, but a plate from Pennsylvania has the same characters, a trooper could stop the wrong person. “That’s a problem,” says Jeff Gamso of the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union. Gamso also noted that NCIS information is not always 100 percent accurate. “If I’m pulled over due to faulty NCIS information, I’m not likely to be let go in five minutes.”

Currently the APR project is on hold. The Ohio State Highway Patrol is awaiting funding from the Ohio Controlling Board to roll it out statewide.