License plate recognition technology can be force multiplier for police

With the R.I. House of Representatives voting to approve a bill proposing a network of cameras on Rhode Island highways to automatically fine out-of-state uninsured drivers, it’s important for Rhode Islanders to understand the full potential of these cameras.

Truth is, insurance verification is just one way to effectively use license plate recognition technology – and it’s not even the most critical one.

LPR technology has helped solve literally thousands of crimes – including planned terrorist attacks, child abductions, human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, rapes, homicides and just about any other type of offense you can imagine. It has even helped exonerate suspects.

Law enforcement agencies around the country use LPR to help close cases, prevent crimes before they occur and improve safety for officers and the communities they serve – and Rhode Island needs to seriously consider the ways its own officers could use this technology as a force for good, boosting the impact of boots on the ground.

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Technology is increasingly being used as a force multiplier to help law enforcement agencies protect and serve, and LPR is a part of that trend. Law enforcement agencies nationwide have been maximizing the impact LPR can have on the way they protect communities by installing a network of LPR cameras to create what’s called a “virtual fence” around a perimeter.

These virtual fences exist in municipalities across the country – not to “create a surveillance state,” as Rep. Blake A. Filippi, R-Block Island, stated. Instead, they give law enforcement officials a way to multiply their effectiveness and keep neighborhoods safer, including from what’s called “outside-in crime,” when criminal elements cross city, county or state lines to commit crimes outside of where they reside.

Every day, law enforcement agencies are asked to do more with less, to be prepared and to readily produce investigative leads. Yet threats to community safety continue to grow, from the potential for lone-wolf gunmen to crime pouring in from neighboring cities. Areas such as universities, schools, business campuses, airports or arenas, to name a few, are self-contained communities that are increasingly targeted by criminals and terrorists.

It’s up to law enforcement agencies to protect their communities with any force multipliers they have access to. The law enforcement agencies that will win the battle are the ones that will know when a wanted vehicle enters the community – a vehicle that may be carrying a person considered dangerous. Agencies must be able to expand their reach and fight crime without stretching their workforces, and to do this requires technology that helps develop investigative leads and close cases faster.

Contrary to the questioning of the poet Robert Frost, sometimes, good fences do make good neighbors – and a virtual fence helps safeguard communities. While using LPR to catch uninsured drivers may help generate revenue for the state, Rhode Island could be doing more to protect citizens by encouraging LPR access to law enforcement.

After 21 years at the NYPD – first patrolling the streets and subways of New York City and later as lieutenant/commander of the NYPD Cold Case Squad – I can attest to the need for law enforcement to use every available tool to protect communities and citizens. Forward-thinking law enforcement agencies see the virtual fence solution and advanced data analysis as proactive steps toward safety and crime prevention – as a force multiplier, a way to do more with less. And isn’t that what agencies are called to do every day?

Tom Joyce retired from the NYPD with the rank of lieutenant commander of detectives and is vice president of business development at Vigilant Solutions, a California-based investigative platform for law enforcement.

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