Multiply and Conquer
Virtual fence of fixed camera technology serves as a force multiplier for law enforcement agencies
“Good fences make good neighbors.”
Although that line from a Robert Frost poem
was intended ironically, to persuade us not to create
boundaries that alienate each other, in the right
context, it should also be taken literally—for instance, when it comes
to ways to aid law enforcement agencies and safeguard communities.
Technology is increasingly being used as a force multiplier to help
law enforcement agencies protect and serve. One way agencies are
turning technology into a crime-fighting tool is by creating what’s
called a “virtual fence” around a perimeter, such as city limits or a
parking lot, by installing a network of license plate reader (LPR)
cameras to monitor an area.
These virtual fences are installed in municipalities across the
country and serve not as a way to surveil the average citizen, but instead
to give law enforcement officials a way to multiply their effectiveness
and keep neighborhoods safer, including from what’s called
“outside-in crime,” when criminal elements cross city or county lines
to commit crimes outside of where they reside.
Case in Point: La Verne, Calif.
La Verne, Calif., is a small community spanning slightly more than
eight square miles, with a population of approximately 30,000 citizens.
“La Verne is not a big city by any stretch of the imagination, but
because it is in Los Angeles County, the city does see its fair share
of criminals either passing through our community, or specifically
coming into our community to perpetrate crimes,” said Sgt. Chris
Fenner of the La Verne Police Department. “We’ve seen otherwise
peaceful communities turned upside-down by crime; when that happens,
it impacts everything—property values, quality of life, business
and much more. We wanted to take a very proactive measure
to reduce the crime that is taking place and prevent future crimes
from ever occurring.”
The police department looked at its options and learned about the
concept of a virtual fence.
“We saw other neighboring communities create a virtual fence
using LPR cameras, and heard about the results they were generating,”
The La Verne Police Department installed a network of 21 fixed
cameras, including hardware (cameras, communication boxes, brackets
and cabling), services (site survey, commissioning and training)
and storage of all plate detections and analytics for investigative use.
Fixed LPR cameras were installed at key entries and exits, called
choke points. The cameras detect all vehicles entering and exiting
through the choke points, capturing the plate number and image, as
well as the time, date and location of every detection. A robust backend
allows for investigative analytics and real-time alerting—no IT
Fenner said the virtual fence in La Verne has had a significant
impact: The police department has identified and stopped dozens of
occupied stolen vehicles entering La Verne, compared with one or
two stolen recoveries annually prior to having the fixed cameras.
“Stolen vehicles are often used to perpetrate other crimes, and I
can say without a doubt that we prevented crimes from taking place
by stopping these vehicles,” Fenner said. “Some of these vehicles were
entering residential areas at one or two in the morning with loaded
firearms and burglary tools. As a result of these stops, we have also
apprehended individuals wanted for more serious crimes, such as kidnapping
and assault with a deadly weapon.”
In addition to a noticeable impact on the department’s ability to
protect neighborhoods from known vehicles of interest, the solution
has also helped to investigate and close cases more rapidly.
“We have solved numerous residential and commercial burglary
cases using vehicle descriptions such as year, make and model, or a
partial plate, coupled with the location,” Fenner said. “We have located
at least three domestic violence suspects using historical data to
understand where the suspects’ vehicles have previously been seen.”
La Verne’s installation shows how a fixed camera solution effectively
wraps a virtual fence around a geographic area of responsibility
to detect when suspicious vehicles enter the area, and boost
a law enforcement agency’s investigative strategies to develop leads
and solve cases.
“The system has been a tremendous force multiplier for our department,
and is helping us not only reduce, but also prevent crime,”
Every day, law enforcement agencies are being asked to do more with
less, to be prepared and to readily produce investigative leads. Yet
threats to community safety continue to grow from the potential for
lone-wolf gunmen to crime pouring in from neighboring cities. Areas
like universities, schools, business campuses, airports or arenas, to
name a few, are self-contained communities that are increasingly targeted
by criminals and terrorists.
It’s up to agencies to protect their areas of geographic responsibility
with any force multipliers they have access to. The law enforcement
agencies that will win the battle are the ones that will know
when a wanted vehicle enters the community—a vehicle that may be
carrying a person considered dangerous.
These agencies will be able to expand their reach and fight crime
without stretching their workforces, and have
the tools at hand to develop investigative leads
and close cases faster. Sometimes good fences
do make good neighbors—and a virtual fence
helps safeguard neighborhoods and communities
across the country.
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Security Today.