Out on the Town

License-plate recognition system increases productivity for Brussels police

Car thieves would be well-advised to steer clear of Brussels, Belgium, where a new license-plate recognition system is helping to detect stolen vehicles—with remarkable results.

Although Brussels has experienced an overall decrease in vehicle theft in recent years, the crime remains a substantial problem. In fact, the city’s Antiaggression Brigade has begun finding more cars in its territory that were stolen outside its borders. That’s why the brigade, part of the Brussels Police Department, recently implemented AutoVu, an IP license plate recognition system from Genetec.

From Manual to Automatic
The entire installation consists of six cameras that can be interchangeably mounted on 10 police vehicles and have been pre-cabled and pre-configured for ease of portability and maximization of usage.

Prior to the AutoVu LPR solution, officers from the Anti-aggression Brigade would memorize license plate numbers of wanted vehicles or compare license plates of suspicious vehicles to printed lists or a database. This manual process of tracking stolen vehicles imposed many limitations on officers trying to cover a lot of ground and vehicles.

Zenitel, a system integrator in Belgium, proposed the LPR solution to the Brussels Police Department.

“Before, the brigade had to rely on its agents to recognize wanted vehicles while patrolling the streets of Brussels,” said Manon Blouin, product manager for AutoVu at Genetec. “It was a very time-consuming process. Through various tests conducted during the day and night, the brigade recognized the excellent performance of our solution and its benefits to their operations.”

An All-in-one Answer
The AutoVu solution is made up of an intelligent camera called the AutoVu Sharp and the Patroller and Back Office software applications. The AutoVu Sharp, an IPbased device, delivers advanced digital video processing, superior plate-reading performance and industrialgrade durability. Available for both fixed and mobile installations, the AutoVu Sharp functions over an IP network and provides the advantages of having sophisticated analytics residing on the edge. Patroller consists of simplified in-vehicle software that reports license plate reads and hits from hotlists, which are imported from the base station. Back Office is the system’s reporting, datamining and live monitoring application.

Each AutoVu Sharp camera reads license plates without external triggering and reports the plates in the form of an image of the vehicle, the plate information and a cutout of the infrared image used to extract the plate. AutoVu Patroller then matches this received information from each Sharp camera on the mobile unit to a series of hotlists that may contain information from around the world on stolen vehicles, wanted felons, scofflaw or uninsured vehicles. Once the shift is over, the operator will return to the facilities and offload all the reads, including hits, to Back Office.

AutoVu’s Sharp creates an all-in-one solution for capturing license plates and processing the information through the edge LPR device. The progressive scan camera takes the IR image of the vehicle, and the edge LPR engine processes the images received from the camera in full high resolution and in real time to extract the license plate. This architecture is designed to allow for the most reliable solution in comparison to centralized processing units of multiple cameras. Processing on the edge also simplifies cabling as there is only the need for power-in, Ethernet out.

‘Virtual’ Officers
Brussels is the first region in Belgium to test the solution. According to the Anti-aggression Brigade chief, the unit recovered nine stolen vehicles in the first three weeks of using AutoVu. The accuracy of the system has impressed the officers.

More than this, the brigade has enjoyed AutoVu’s easy-to-use and touch-enabled interface, which automatically alerts officers of stolen vehicles as the plate is scanned by the LPR camera.

“The benefits are multiple,” Blouin said. “We were told by several police officers that the Sharp is like an extra agent in the car. It enables the patrolling officers to focus on other tasks rather than paying attention to licence plates. In certain cases, they can remove one patrolling officer to be reassigned on another mission. So there is a great productivity gain for the entire brigade.

“The Sharp, as a ‘virtual’ officer, also does its job very well. Its ‘eyes’ can read a greater number of plates at a high-accuracy rate and match its readings to very large vehicles of designated databases. This makes this task much more efficient and brings enhanced results in detecting wanted vehicles.”

Currently, the Anti-aggression Brigade is solely using AutoVu to automate the detection of stolen vehicles, and officers disregard licence plate information outside of this objective. But with the success of the solution, the brigade intends to purchase another four units and is looking to expand the application to include the detection of vehicles without car insurance.

This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of Security Today.

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