Several U.S. cities including Los Angeles and Miami are testing digital license plate readers (LPRs), which typically consist of standard and infrared video cameras linked a processing system in the trunk of a police car and a dashboard laptop.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has been testing LPRs from four vendors--AutoVu, Civica, PIPS Technology, and Remington-Elsag--since early 2005. Since then, the system has identified 200 stolen vehicles and facilitated 60 arrests. The department has decided to spend $250,000 to equip 19 police cars with LPRs by summer, but a vendor has not yet been selected.

The system features two pairs of conventional and infrared (IR) cameras affixed to a squad car's roof and rear window as well as an infrared strobe light that makes it easier for the IR cameras to read license plates. The standard cameras record street scenes for later reference.

The images captured by the IR cameras are sent to the processing system and converted into a readable format understood by the computer. This data is then run through a "hot list" of some 123,000 stolen cars that is updated daily by the LAPD. A computerized voice alerts officers if any plates are indicated as stolen. The laptop also displays information about the stolen car as well as its location data.

Such technology is already widespread in Europe: France for instance, has 1,000 portable and fixed plate-reading cameras that have increased speeding ticket revenue twofold while decreasing speed-related deaths by 50 percent in two years.
Abstracted by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center(NLECTC) from Wired (03/06) Vol. 14, No. 3, P. 110; Downs, David.