License Plate Readers: What You Need to Know

flock license plate reader

As security technology advances year after year, license plate reader (LPR) security cameras are becoming the new normal for businesses. Establishments ranging from police precincts to hotels and retail stores are using LPR cameras to read and catalogue the plate number of each vehicle that comes near their facility. If you’re thinking about buying license plate readers for your business, here are some things you should know about these up-and-coming security systems.

How Do License Plate Cameras Work?

flock license plate reader

The term “license plate reader” is not as straightforward as it seems: License plate reader cameras come in a couple different varieties, which affects the way they gather and store data about license plates. The two categories of license plate cameras are license plate “recognition” cameras and license plate “capture” cameras. Though these two sound similar, they function in very different ways.

License Plate Capture Cameras

License plate capture cameras function the same way as regular security cameras, but they have the high resolution, shutter speed, and headlight compensation needed to accurately and consistently read license plates. The main thing to keep in mind is that these cameras only capture images of the plates, and do not actually read them and convert them into data.

There are many ways license plate capture cameras gather consistently clear license plate images. For example, some cameras use WDR (Wide Dynamic Range) to balance out levels of light in areas with high contrast, allowing for a more clear and visible picture. Proper image exposure is an important part of getting a clear image out of your cameras. Without exposure correction, glare from headlights, street lamps, and other light sources can obscure images of license plates.

License Plate Recognition Cameras

License plate recognition cameras are more advanced, as they combine specialized software and character recognition capabilities actually scan or “read” the plate numbers and store each number it reads. This takes license plate reading to the next level. LPR cameras use special optical character recognition (OCR), letting them recognize each character on the plate and translate this into digital data. License plate recognition cameras use high-resolution sensors and glare compensation to ensure license plates are captured clearly enough for the cameras to accurately scan the number.

Since license plate recognition cameras actually “read” the plate number, unlike license plate capture cameras, they are able to store each number in a digital database that you can access at any time. This greatly enhances the intelligence of your license plate reading system by allowing your security cameras to database, sort, and compare plate numbers.

Which One Is Best?

When you hear about cutting-edge license plate readers, these are probably license plate recognition devices rather than license plate capture devices. Flock, Hikvision, Perceptics, and Genetec are a few examples of manufacturers that produce high-tech, feature-rich license plate recognition cameras. For anyone who wants to keep complete track of which vehicles enter their property without manually going through hours of footage, license plate recognition cameras are the best bet.

What Is License Plate Reader Software?

License plate readers

If you’re going to create a database of all the vehicle license plates that enter your business, you need license plate reader software to catalogue the numbers. Using a video management system (VMS), LPR security cameras store footage of each license plate, along with data about the plate number, in a digital database. Then, every time a vehicle comes near your business in the future, your LPR will scan the vehicle’s license plate and compare it to the other plate numbers in the database. You can flag certain plate numbers to ban that vehicle from entering a property, or verify that the plate is authorized to gain access.

What Are the Benefits of LPR Software?

License plate reader software presents many advantages to your business. For example, you or authorized security staff can search for any license plate number, and see every time it has entered your property, along with a timestamp and video footage of the actual event. This makes it easy to see who was in your business at the time a crime happened, or detect suspicious patterns of things going on around your building. If someone commits a crime in your business, you can use your LPR system to trace them to their license plate number and apprehend them. If you have intelligent cameras or video software with additional object recognition capabilities, you can even search your stored footage for specific makes, models, and colors of cars you want to find.

Using high-quality LPR cameras and software will benefit your business security in the long run. Some features of today’s cutting-edge license plate readers include:

  • Distinguish license plate numbers from other text on cars such as bumper stickers
  • Read multiple plates per image
  • Read motorcycle and temporary plates
  • recognize plate type, state and country
  • Recognizes a variety of different vehicle shapes to read unusual vehicles
  • Machine learning that recognizes different vehicle types, colors and more
  • Storing video footage in the cloud for higher convenience and accessibility

Combining LPR Software and Access Control

HOA gate access control

Installing license plate reader software gives business operators the possibility of combining LPR cameras with access control. This is an especially effective security method because any time a blacklisted license plate is detected, your vehicle gate can automatically lock to keep out the vehicle. If anyone comes into your business and causes trouble or commits a crime, you can block their plate number from entering the premises to prevent repeat incidents. You can also receive instant alerts and sound alarms any time certain license plates are detected. Conversely, if an authorized vehicle approaches the gate, your camera can read the number and send permission for your gate to unlock.

Are License Plate Reader Cameras Legal?

license plate reader

Since license plate readers simply catalogue license plate numbers, which are public information, they are legal for businesses to use, and are becoming common in HOA neighborhoods and apartment buildings. Since license plate numbers are visible on public roads and are displayed outside the vehicle, they are not considered private information in most jurisdictions, meaning companies can collect as many plate numbers as they want. Keep in mind that license plate reader cameras only capture information on the outside of the car: They do not capture personal information such as registration details, names, or addresses.

It is generally legal to do this without informing people or posting notice, though it is a good idea to let people in neighborhoods, residential buildings, and other settings know that this information is being tracked. Though you may not be legally persecuted for not telling people their plates are being tracked, you could still breed mistrust among residents and tenants if you conceal this information.

Why Are License Plate Readers Used?

  • Grant entry to authorized vehicles
  • Get instant alerts if a blacklisted vehicle is detected
  • Search time-stamped video footage and/or still images
  • Pair with automatic gate openers for more efficient entry
  • Gather traffic insights to boost business

High Security

LPR cameras are best known for their use in law enforcement settings such as police stations. LPR systems are used here to track down known offenders. Today, license plate readers are used in more settings, including parking lots, residences, schools, campuses, hotels, and more. License plate readers help keep businesses secure and help to streamline the visitor management process. Automatically compiling visitors’ license plates is an easy and efficient way of keeping track of who enters and exits your business.

Reduced Liability

Having license plate numbers attached to actual footage of that vehicle in your business reduces legal liability by making it easy to provide evidence against false claims. When you can see a catalogue of every vehicle that has entered a property, along with time stamps and video footage, it is a breeze to find any incident you are looking for and see what really happened.

Who Uses License Plate Readers?

flock lpr camera

License plate readers are most useful for high-security, access controlled facilities, or spaces storing valuable items that will need to be recovered if stolen. Some businesses such as casinos want to detect the flagged license plates of banned offenders so they can have security staff and/or law enforcement at the ready. License plate readers may be overkill for smaller, lower security spaces, but owners of high-security applications and facilities where access is highly restricted may find LPR cameras a useful option for boosting security. It says a lot that LPR systems are best known for being used in law enforcement settings.

Stores And Shopping Centers

retail security systems

LPR cameras can also be useful if you own a retail store or shopping center that is vulnerable to theft, especially if you are experiencing repeat crimes. Getting a license plate reader helps you identify who is committing crimes in your property, and prevent them from entering your space in the future. When thieves park or drive past your LPR camera, you will get their plate number, and can then blacklist their vehicle and set up entry alerts. This will also make it easier to apprehend any criminals trying to get away with your goods. This also holds true for cannabis facilities or any other facilities holding restricted substances. License plate reader cameras will supply the high level of security these applications need.

Parking Facilities

LPR cameras can also be used in parking lots and garages to make sure only authorized vehicles are allowed to park in the area. With an LPR system and access control, any car with a plate number that is in your approved database can pass through the gates, while cars with unapproved license plates are locked out. Or, unauthorized plates can be detected after vehicles enter the space, letting you detect unauthorized cars in your parking space and handle the situation. In addition to making it easy to get vehicles people out of your lot, a secure LPR camera will prevent many people from trying in the first place.

Toll Collection

License plate readers are also popularly used for toll collection purposes. Toll operators with electronic tolling systems need a way to keep track of vehicles without having to manually go through all video footage, which would take many hours. LPR cameras and software provide an appealing option, offering more accurate and complete plate number collection due to powerful imaging and machine learning.

Can Regular Security Cameras Read License Plates?

Verkada security cameras

You may wonder if you can use your existing security cameras to read license plate numbers. The answer is sometimes, but not usually. This is because of a few reasons:

  • Most security cameras do not have the proper resolution and settings to read license plates in a variety of weather conditions.
  • Regular security cameras are also more susceptible to glare from headlights, obscuring the image. Without the image correction necessary to get a clear and accurate plate reading, regular security cameras will be useless for consistently tracking license plates.
  • Specialized license plate reader cameras are better at capturing license plates on moving vehicles.

If you have a high-resolution IP camera with good light balancing capabilities, you will probably be able to get many plate numbers using that. It is generally recommended that license plate reader cameras should have 50-60 pixels per foot (PPF). The placement of the camera also needs to be low to the ground and facing license plates straight on to get a good image. Pairing your cameras with a license plate reading software will also enhance their ability to capture and store plate numbers. But if you really want to ensure you get every license plate number that enters your business without fail, an LPR camera is your best bet. This will ensure bad lighting, harsh weather, or the speed of a moving vehicle does throw off your cameras.

license plate camera

Want more information about license plate reader cameras and how they can be used? Give us a call or send us a message. Our security experts know how to protect your business, and which security systems are necessary to do so.

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