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NBPA to Test Using License Plate Readers to Give Tickets

90-Day Pilot Program Will Harness Same Technology Used by Local Police
NBPD license plate readers
License plate readers on the back of a city police car. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The city's parking authority is looking to use license plate readers (LPR's), the same technology that local police departments have been using to quickly look up registration information on vehicles.

Mitch Karon, the Executive Director of the New Brunswick Parking Authority (NBPA), told his board on July 22 that it will soon be debuting the technology for a 90-day trial period and using it to enforce permit parking on city streets.

Karon says that the NBPA will spend $625 to have Connecticut-based Integrated Technical Systems, Inc. outfit one of the agency's enforcement vehicles with license plate readers.

The authority has already been using LPR technology inside some of its newer structure parking facilities, but on August 1, it will be deployed for the first time to issue tickets to people parked in certain city neighborhoods without the required homeowner, tenant, or visitor permits.

As we have reported, New Brunswick Police Department has successfully used LPR's to recover at least one car that had been reported stolen.

Vehicles with an elapsed registration, even those that are parked or unoccupied, or a vehicle registered to an individual with a warrant for their arrest, might also generate alerts to police officers using an LPR.

But NBPA officials say that, even if an LPR enforcement system is fully implemented, it would be exclusively used for enforcement of the on-street permit parking system, and would not be used to investigate other violations.

Karon maintains the LPR technology on his agency's vehicles will not check the same things police LPR's do.

"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, Karon said.

The NBPA hopes that the system will make it quicker and easier for its enforcement officers to give tickets to people parked on streets that are reserved for residents and their visitors.

On many streets, especially those near Rutgers University and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, NBPA enforcement officers strictly enforce ward-based permit parking regulations.

Information about which license plates are connected to valid permits will be loaded into the LPR system, Karon said, "And basically when it's going down the block... if there's a license plate that is not attached to a permit, that will require the officer to... double-check," and potentially issue a ticket if the violation is genuine.

Karon says that, if the technology works well, the authority could do away with its system of window decals, and allow people's license plates to serve as their official parking permits.

"Ultimately our goal is that residential parking permits will be able to be acquired online versus coming into our office," said Karon.  "We would do away with the decals and the hangtags."

Automatic license plate recognition software can be used with standard computers connected to a camera.

The light bouncing off a license plate enters the camera, and then the computer enhances the image in order to better "read" the license plate.

The computer "reads" the plate through a process called Optical Character Recognition (OCR), the same technology used to digitize scanned documents, and checks it against the database.

But computers don't always quite as well as people, and taking the pictures at an angle might result in the photographed plates being unreadable, or the license plates might be obscured altogether by other vehicles.

During the trial run, enforcement teams will evaluate whether the LPR's actually read the license plates correctly, Karon said.

"So our officers will go down the block and it's almost like a duplicate effort," Karon described, adding, "There'll be another officer doing it the old-fashioned way."

Though Karon said LPR is "becoming very commonplace with enforcing," he still believes that the system the NBPA is piloting would be the first of its kind in New Jersey.  

"LPR is very common... not too much in New Jersey because New Jersey has a lot of restrictions with getting information from DMV," said Karon.