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Software Problems Delay NBPA Pilot Program for License Plate Readers

Pilot Program Extended Through November After Computer Glitch
NBPA LPR vehicle
The red light atop this NBPA vehicle is emitted from a license plate reader device, part of a new system being piloted. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A pilot program using License Plate Reader (LPR) technology to enforce on-street permit parking in New Brunswick, the first of its kind in New Jersey, was delayed by about a month due to a software "glitch."

Mitch Karon, Executive Director of the New Brunswick Parking Authority (NBPA), said at the board meeting on August 26 that a "small glitch in the computer system" was responsible for the delay.

"Obviously, the pilot program does not begin until the computer works, even though the cameras work," Karon told the NBPA board.

The program was originally set to run from August 1 to the end of October, but instead began one month late because of problems with the computer database of license plates.

LPR's have already been used at some of the authority's newer parking decks, but the new technology will assist the NBPA in issuing tickets to people parked in certain city neighborhoods who don't have the proper homeowner, tenant or guest passes.

"We have little issues here and there.  It’s not running smoothly as we we're hoping.  That's why it's a pilot program, we're testing it out," Karon stated at a September board meeting. 

“One of the things we just added was an audible signal to the computer, so as opposed to popping up as a readable," Karon added.  "So it’s less distracting to the officer obviously, so they don’t constantly look [at a screen].”

"I have no comment right now if it's a good system or a bad system," said Karon, who said he hoped to have an update at the board's 5pm meeting on October 28, as the pilot programs prepares to enter its final month.

Connecticut-based Integrated Technical Systems, Inc. was paid $625 to outfit one of the NBPA's cars with an LPR device.

The NBPA will use the pilot program to determine whether the parking authority is interested in expanding the use of LPRs to the city's entire parking enforcement fleet.

The same technology is in use by the New Brunswick Police Department (NBPD), and multiple sensors trigger automatically look-ups of the vehicle registration information of license plates observed.

If the program is deemed successful, Karon has said that he hopes to use it to replace the existing permit system, allowing a resident's license plate to effectively double as their permit.

"Currently the license plate is written on the permit so enforcement knows it is connected to the correct vehicle. Instead of giving out paper permits, a person’s license plate will act as the permit."

"They will be able to register 7 days a week, 24 hours a day from the comfort of their homes," Karon added.

The readers work by employing cameras and character recognition, allowing the camera to pick up the characters on the license plate and match it with the numbers on file. 

Once the vehicle-mounted LPR is turned on, the cameras are active and automatically scan license plates as the vehicle drives past parked cars. 

Information that the LPR collects in real time, specifically the license plates observed and the dates, times and locations at which the plates were observed, is held in an onboard digital notebook, or "tablet."

"That data is held...until the session is over," Karon told New Brunswick Today. "In other words, the officer goes out and enforces for 3 hours. Comes back to the office, disconnects notebook, the information collected by the camera is deleted."

As we reported, an LPR technology was used by the local police in 2014 to recover a vehicle that had been reported stolen.  A press release sent out by the New Brunswick police touted the use of the LPR system.

Karon assured that the LPR system would be used exclusively for enforcement of the on-street parking permit system, and that it would not be used to investigate criminal violations.

"It's a contained system," Karon said, "It's not even connected [to police]."

The only thing the LPR system will check will be if a plate is in the NBPA's database containing the list of license plates authorized for permit parking, he said.

Karon added that if New Brunswick police persisted in getting access to records, either through asking the NBPA directly or by obtaining a warrant, that he would seek legal counsel.

NBPD Director Anthony Caputo is one of the five NBPA board members.

Since the use of the license plate reader is still in its "infant stage," a more definitive set of policies and procedures would need to be developed in the event of police request of data, according to Karon.