LPR, Lights, Camera…Smoke and Mirrors

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Are Law Enforcement agencies being forced into big costly LPR technology purchases? If so, why does this continue? 

license plate recognition for law enforcement

Many technology companies today have mastered the art of selling to buyers inside the Law Enforcement (LE) space. While these clients do their level best to make the most informed and educated decisions possible, are they often being oversold on police LPR systems with the proposed value vs what is actually realized?  Just some of the steps inside a department’s purchasing process include doing their due diligence with lengthy in field trials, RFP’s, test and evaluations, customer references checks and price negotiation. 

But this article isn’t about how agencies purchase LPR, rather it’s about how Law Enforcement agencies continue to purchase and or overpay reoccurring prices or fees for a technology that has been developed and hardened here in the U.S. over several decades. Now let’s be clear, this isn’t about LE making poor purchasing decisions, rather it’s about the vendors who on one hand tell LE that they support them and appreciate them, while at the same time continue to grind them for more money. Although there can be a number of reasons that companies that sell LPR do so for a high price, one alarming reason is they are fearful of leaving money on the table.

Let’s break down the sales talking points around how vendors state that LPR technology systems demand the higher costs. In order to fully understand this, we must first understand the major cost centers and elements in an LPR solution.

Mobile LPR Cameras (capture device) and Fixed LPR Cameras or Wireless LPR Camera

Computer Resource for License Plate Recognition  (In Car Computer or Edge Device)

OCR Engine for LPR (the software that processes the plate image)

The Back-Office LPR Software and/or GUI in the vehicle

Data Sharing – Compliance Standards for License Plate Recognition



The best LPR cameras are a critical component to the success of reading license plates. Other companies elect to broadcast that this is just a simple capture device and that the real magic lies within the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software or AI engine. While the license plate recognition software is important, there must be a readable image sent to the software. Both mobile and fixed cameras have become increasingly more versatile and image quality is generally always getting better. The best LPR companies today will locate a camera manufacturer and have “their” LPR camera built to their specification to then brand as their own. This type of camera is typically a dedicated LPR camera with two lenses, IR/Color, with an IR LED bank allowing images to be captured both day and or night with vehicle passing at speeds in excess of 150MPH and read ranges in excess of 100’.  



The Best License Plate Recognition Cameras

When looking at license plate recognition camera systems, look for cameras that are up to date with today’s technology. LPR cameras with embedded processors eliminate the higher costs of purchasing, managing and warranting a 3rd party computer placed in the vehicle or out on a pole. 

The LPR Computer Resource

Mobile LPR – If an LPR system is not using the MDC as a means for the license plate recognition software to run, some vendors will require you to purchase an additional processing device that needs to be installed in the vehicle in order to complete their solution. Aside from being costly, this will require additional space, power, and connections to the existing MDC/MDT.  Also, some systems will require an integration with CAD RMS, GPS devices and any comms system to push detections back and update hot lists etc. If a vendor does not have a history of providing solutions inside this ecosystem then maybe this particular vendor doesn’t fully understand the LE Space and may stunt the growth of rapidly maturing LEA wanting to deploy and use LPR in vehicles. There are very few LPR companies today that build and provide their own Computer resource. This is done by other companies who allow LPR vendors to brand these solutions as their own. This is just another component adding to the overall license plate recognition system price. Ask your vendor does your system require an additional Computer to work inside your current environment?

Fixed LPR – Many LPR vendors look to create the best LPR image quality and are migrating to POE Digital HD cameras. In doing so, they increase the requirements to process more data points. In order to do this many companies will place a compute resource out at the edge (on a pole inside an NEMA enclosure). This is done for a number of reasons; one large and costly one is to eliminate the need for greater bandwidth and backhaul of data over the wireless device or network. This is just another added component that has increased failure points and expense. Enclosures are large, require increased connections, and points of potential failure and increases in hardware warranty costs etc. Look for a company that is eliminating these types of failure points and increased component costing. Many folks don’t understand the costs incurred by an LPR vendor that has to acquire a third-party computer, inventory it, test it, package it up, ship it out and then install and warranty. These costs add up and are passed onto the LEA purchasing the system.



police lpr systems

The OCR Engine for LPR Systems

This is where all the heavy lifting is done. In today’s LPR field of providers, the LPR OCR engine or AI software can cost an incredible amount to create and build. For newer companies this can be a real challenge to create and sell as most agree it is the most expensive aspect of a LPR system. 

It is very smart folks writing incredible codes that are designed to process images within milliseconds. Any LPR company that wants to garner the attention of sophisticated buyers will have to provide a solution that captures plates at a minimum of the 95% percentile and also has an accuracy of the same or greater in plate accuracy. Again, focusing on the financials here, if the technology has been around for many years now and the OCR Engine has been largely perfected for well over two decades…why the high prices when the OCR engine has already been paid for many times over?

The LPR Back Office

Instead of breaking out and comparing all the different nuances and features between LPR vendors’ back office solutions, consider the most critical components that an LPR vendor must provide, a safe and secure solution for use by law enforcement. Inside of that, there is also a responsibility on the part of the LEA to ensure that they meet and adhere to a federal, state, and local permissible use policy for LPR and the Data Collected, etc. Any vendors wishing to offer an LPR solution to LEA’s in the U.S. must ensure that they meet and adhere to all their state compliance standards as well as the CJIS compliance elements and standards.  As a LEA looking to deploy LPR, one must ensure that the vendor selected has a credible history of meeting CJIS standards and can provide factual details around its ability to do so. 

Data Sharing and LPR Systems

There is an emerging trend within LEA’s across the U.S. with a history of LPR usage. Many agencies are growing weary of being forced to pay high recurring fees in order to keep an LPR system functioning and must remain with a vendor because a neighboring agency has the same vendor as well and they wish to share LPR Data, local hot lists or equipment. Today, legacy LPR vendors know that once they have a customer “it takes an incredible effort on the part of the agency to leave – typical agencies will stay for 5-7 years”. As vendors create a proprietary solution around LPR detection, data sharing outside their ecosystem, many agencies grow weary of being forced to go with the same vendor in order to solve crimes across jurisdictions or state lines. In other words, there are regions of the country where vendors have created strongholds. There are state or regional contracts virtually eliminating other vendors’ participation in the bidding process, making it nearly impossible for LEA’s to select a competitive solution that can integrate with other systems. In many ways, this has eliminated the need for the incumbent vendor to remain competitive on price and allow the region to benefit from advancements in technology and price savings.

What LPR Companies Don’t Tell You… 

Today there are roughly three tiers that LPR vendors who sell to law enforcement fall in. 

Tier One- These would be considered enterprise class LPR providers. These providers actually own their technology and provide an entire full turnkey solution for all the various LPR ecosystems, mobile, fixed, LPR on trailers etc. These companies build their own cameras, OCR engine, Back Office etc.  There are truly very few companies that do this today. 

Tier Two – Companies that do not build all their own technology and rely on another vendor to complete their solution. These companies will farm out their LPR software development to other countries and have cameras built and assembled overseas. They rely on other companies to complete their solution. Most license plate recognition systems today fall inside this bucket. 

Tier Three – Companies that take their technology and blend or layer LPR inside their product offering. Much like an in-car video company that would purchase an OCR engine to then integrate it for use in conjunction with the in-car video solution they make. Many times, they will then label the LPR solution as their own.  Additionally, some companies may only provide a single component of LPR, like a mobile in-car version or maybe a small trail cam or even a fixed LPR solution with a CCTV camera. These companies generally do not understand how to build the technology around law enforcement agencies LPR use policies and CJIS LPR standards.  

Wondering how to select an LPR vendor? There are a number of items for consideration and each aspect of the decision making depends on a number of factors. 

Look for a company that manufactures their own hardened LPR cameras

Look for a company that develops their own software and supports it in-house.

Look for a company that has a large install base, not just a handful of small agencies. Ask for references.

If quality, accuracy, ease of use and cost are important to you, look to Riverland Technologies.

If you’ve found value in the article, look to Riverland.

In order to justify ongoing payments and a premium price, some LPR companies create a perceived value of its product and any service being offered. Every aspect is presented by design to support the notion of the premium prices being pushed. This includes packaging and large sums of money being spent with marketing designed to create the perception (if not the reality) that the product is worth its price. When companies first began with LPR technology for sale, most companies shouldered a very large financial cost of building the software etc. So, when choosing an LPR solution, ask yourself: now that the software has had almost a decade of use and revenue to cover the cost etc., why are companies still charging such a large amount?

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