ALPR Catches Virginia Shooter Fast, Public Takes Notice

Despite all the unknowns in this case, we do have one solid and incontrovertible fact: Flanagan was apprehended very quickly by Virginia State Police. The reason is because he was detected by an Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) system

By John Chigos, CEO of PlateSmart Technologies

The on-air shootings of a reporter and cameraman in Virginia last week, carried out by their former co-worker, have naturally left our nation stunned. In the relatively short period of time since this horrific event occurred, we have seen a flood of information pour out regarding the gunman and his victims. Among this information is a 23-page manifesto that the shooter, a man by the name of Vester Lee Flanagan, apparently faxed to ABC News in New York. The document, filled with a litany of complaints and justification for his actions, raises more questions than it answers.

Despite all the unknowns in this case, we do have one solid and incontrovertible fact: Flanagan was apprehended very quickly by Virginia State Police. The reason is because he was detected by an Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) system. Roughly five hours after Flanagan had committed his crimes, a diligent state trooper equipped with ALPR identified him, caught him and thereby ensured he would harm no one else. People have been particularly interested in the role the ALPR technology played in capturing Flanagan, as evidenced by several leading consumer news outlets like Newsweek and Fox News covering the ALPR story.

Why the sudden interest from the public who is often skeptical about ALPR and video surveillance in general? I believe the answer to be that the Virginia incident positively illustrates the benefits of ALPR and how it is a necessity to the cause of public safety, contrary to the many misconceptions about the technology.

Let’s take a look at some of the advantages of ALPR through the context of the Virginia incident.

  • Real-Time Response. ALPR allows police to quickly match a plate with information that has been entered in their BOLO or hotlists. In Virginia, when the state trooper entered the details of the wanted vehicle into her license plate reader, the system automatically identified it as a positive hit and that the car had just passed her a few minutes prior.  The officer was able to immediately notify dispatch and team up with other state troopers to pursue and capture Flanagan.

  • Lead Generation. Whether it is suspected child abductors, petty street criminals, killers with deranged manifestoes like Flanagan, or terrorists with bastardized religious views such as ISIS, the common denominator is that the vast majority of them need to drive motor vehicles. This makes detecting their license plates one of the most reliable methods of finding and apprehending them.
  • Public Safety Protection. ALPR has always been designed to protect citizens and save lives– not to empower police to track every motorist 24/7 (as many opposing groups claim).  The goal of ALPR technology is to take criminals off the streets before they can act again. Today, as a video analytic technology, ALPR is not just an added feature in a security solution. It is an essential tool that law enforcement and security personnel can’t afford not to use.

Although ALPR is overwhelmingly favored by law enforcement and security agencies, it has come under fire by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who have in turn influenced organizations to refrain from using it.  The main argument from these groups is that ALPR conducts “Big Brother” surveillance, encroaching on privacy and gathering too much information from civilians. The truth is license plates are public information so there is no expectation of privacy. Additionally, the data that ALPR systems aggregate is protected, which is enforced by audit and retention features. Lastly, law officers only look up a plate if they are given a reason to such as if it has been identified on a hotlist.

If you look at any technology, there are always pros and cons; however, as a civilized society, we must always weigh the good against the bad. In the case of ALPR, the bad is heavily outweighed by the good. I hope that the events in Virginia will help open the public’s eyes to the reality of the situation and that this newfound realization will be reflected in the willingness of our legislators to enable the men and women who protect us to make use of ALPR to its fullest potential.


  • 12 Commercial Crime Sites to Do Your Research

    12 Commercial Crime Sites to Do Your Research

    Understanding crime statistics in your industry and area is crucial for making important decisions about your security budget. With so much information out there, how can you know which statistics to trust? Read Now

  • Boosting Safety and Efficiency

    Boosting Safety and Efficiency

    In alignment with the state of Mississippi’s mission of “Empowering Mississippi citizens to stay connected and engaged with their government,” Salient's CompleteView VMS is being installed throughout more than 150 state boards, commissions and agencies in order to ensure safety for thousands of constituents who access state services daily. Read Now

  • Live From GSX: Post-Show Review

    Live From GSX: Post-Show Review

    This year’s Live From GSX program was a rousing success! Again, we’d like to thank our partners, and IPVideo, for working with us and letting us broadcast their solutions to the industry. You can follow our Live From GSX 2023 page to keep up with post-show developments and announcements. And if you’re interested in working with us in 2024, please don’t hesitate to ask about our Live From programs for ISC West in March or next year’s GSX. Read Now

    • Industry Events
    • GSX
  • People Say the Funniest Things

    People Say the Funniest Things

    By all accounts, GSX version 2023 was completely successful. Apparently, there were plenty of mix-ups with the airlines and getting aircraft from the East Coast into Big D. I am all ears when I am in a gathering of people. You never know when a nugget of information might flip out. Read Now

    • Industry Events
    • GSX

Featured Cybersecurity


New Products

  • Mobile Safe Shield

    Mobile Safe Shield

    SafeWood Designs, Inc., a manufacturer of patented bullet resistant products, is excited to announce the launch of the Mobile Safe Shield. The Mobile Safe Shield is a moveable bullet resistant shield that provides protection in the event of an assailant and supplies cover in the event of an active shooter. With a heavy-duty steel frame, quality castor wheels, and bullet resistant core, the Mobile Safe Shield is a perfect addition to any guard station, security desks, courthouses, police stations, schools, office spaces and more. The Mobile Safe Shield is incredibly customizable. Bullet resistant materials are available in UL 752 Levels 1 through 8 and include glass, white board, tack board, veneer, and plastic laminate. Flexibility in bullet resistant materials allows for the Mobile Safe Shield to blend more with current interior décor for a seamless design aesthetic. Optional custom paint colors are also available for the steel frame. 3

  • XS4 Original+

    XS4 Original+

    The SALTO XS4 Original+ design is based on the same proven housing and mechanical mechanisms of the XS4 Original. The XS4 Original+, however, is embedded with SALTO’s BLUEnet real-time functionality and SVN-Flex capability that enables SALTO stand-alone smart XS4 Original+ locks to update user credentials directly at the door. Compatible with the array of SALTO platform solutions including SALTO Space data-on-card, SALTO KS Keys as a Service cloud-based access solution, and SALTO’s JustIn Mobile technology for digital keys. The XS4 Original+ also includes RFID Mifare DESFire, Bluetooth LE and NFC technology functionality. 3

  • ResponderLink


    Shooter Detection Systems (SDS), an Alarm.com company and a global leader in gunshot detection solutions, has introduced ResponderLink, a groundbreaking new 911 notification service for gunshot events. ResponderLink completes the circle from detection to 911 notification to first responder awareness, giving law enforcement enhanced situational intelligence they urgently need to save lives. Integrating SDS’s proven gunshot detection system with Noonlight’s SendPolice platform, ResponderLink is the first solution to automatically deliver real-time gunshot detection data to 911 call centers and first responders. When shots are detected, the 911 dispatching center, also known as the Public Safety Answering Point or PSAP, is contacted based on the gunfire location, enabling faster initiation of life-saving emergency protocols. 3