Getting a lock on the criminal element citywide
The city of Montevideo is the capital of the South American nation of Uruguay. With a population of 1.3 million, it is home to roughly one-third of the country’s people. In addition to being Uruguay’s main port, Montevideo is also the commercial and educational center of the nation. A major player in the global economy, the capital is consistently ranked as having the highest quality of life of any city in Latin America.
Any major city has its share of crime, and Montevideo is no exception. The city is a major tourist attraction, making it increasingly more attractive to criminals during those certain times of the year when cruise ships dock at city ports. The city’s high economic profile has the potential of making it a prime target for terrorist attacks. With all of this in mind, city administrators saw the wisdom of implementing a comprehensive citywide video surveillance system complete with Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) capability. Ultimately, the city decided on a system consisting of 850 surveillance cameras plus an additional 20 ALPR cameras, and a request for bids was issued.
Out of a vast number of proposals, Montevideo’s leadership ultimately selected the one submitted by SONDA, one of the leading systems integrators in Latin America. Headquartered in Santiago, Chile, SONDA has offices in Mexico, Panama, and all over the South American continent, where it has been designing and implementing automation systems, traffic control and other complex, large-scale IT solutions since 1974. The Montevideo project was based in SONDA’s Uruguay office.
A fundamental component of SONDA’s proposal was to deliver the best ALPR solution possible for Montevideo’s surveillance system; however, it was a new area for them. Joaquin Frechero, project lead for SONDA, explained that this was their first experience with ALPR cameras.
After a period of research, the company approached PlateSmart of Oldsmar, Fla., a pioneer in the development of software-based ALPR technology and a longtime provider of groundbreaking fixed ALPR-based video analytics solutions. Having already provided affordable and effective ALPR solutions for large college campuses, hospitals, ports and similar locations, PlateSmart’s engineers were ready for this new challenge. Frechero says that SONDA ultimately selected ALPR-based video analytics platform based on its documented technical advantages.
“We chose PlateSmart because it has an easy and intuitive interface and scalability,” Frechero said. “Also, the architecture of the solution was similar to the one we used in the city surveillance solution, so this was a plus.”
According to Frechero, his company also received a number of strong references in favor of PlateSmart and ARES. Additionally, ARES has been the recipient of a number of industry awards for excellence in security products.
The ARES platform has at its core PlateSmart’s unique camera-agnostic ALPR engine, which was the first to reliably read North American license plates as well as recognize their state jurisdictions. In its current iteration, the engine can also recognize vehicle make and color. All image processing is done in full color, which enables the PlateSmart engine to extract more data from a video image than any other ALPR product. In addition, ARES provides a full suite of video analytics capabilities, enabling such functions as parking lot counts, suspicious vehicle movement pattern recognition, and more. Future versions of ARES will include numerous supplemental features including facial capture, and will be available to existing ARES customers as an upgrade that will not require them to replace their cameras. For this project, that meant that SONDA and the city would be able to choose from a wide variety of cost-effective cameras for their ALPR needs and could likely count on keeping them in place for a long time to come.
SONDA chose the Messoa LPR-610, for Montevideo’s ALPR needs. PlateSmart already had a great deal of experience with Messoa cameras, consistently achieving high ALPR accuracy with them. Engineers placed 20 LPR-610s at key streets and intersections, what Frechero calls “strategic points of Montevideo.” System installation was carried out from April to June of 2015.
SONDA’s team worked closely with PlateSmart engineers to position and aim the Messoa cameras for optimum performance, ultimately enabling Montevideo’s ARES solution to reliably capture license plates from vehicles moving at speeds ranging from 40 to 100 kilometers per hour. The two companies then proceeded to tie ARES into the city’s ‘Be On The Lookout’ (BOLO) database of wanted vehicles. When the system was first activated, it immediately began producing alerts that wanted vehicles had been detected, or “hits” as they are known. The sheer number of hits generated proved somewhat overwhelming at first.
“When we first launched ARES we got a lot of hits,” Frechero said. “Then we fine-tuned the system and got more hits.”
For Montevideo’s new citywide surveillance system, SONDA chose the OnSSI Ocularis VMS as the central control solution. Ocularis is an open-architecture platform that provides comprehensive digital monitor-and-record functionality for all of the city’s surveillance cameras and can be accessed from anywhere by authorized personnel. For the system to be successful, PlateSmart’s ARES would have to interface with Ocularis and send it metadata containing all license plate capture information and criminal database alerts. Fortunately, ARES and Ocularis were well-acquainted; PlateSmart and OnSSI, with the help of Convergence TP (C2P), had previously worked together extensively on integrating the two platforms. With the interface achieved, all license plate capture and alert data is available to authorized personnel through Ocularis in addition to the ability to monitor any cameras the user selects.
This deployment represents the newest trend in the utilization of ALPR; namely, the shift away from mobile solutions toward fixed-location solutions incorporating abundant numbers of cameras distributed over large areas. Until recently, ALPR has been considered almost exclusively as a vehicle-mounted technology, usually conjuring images of patrol cars driving through neighborhoods with bulky black cameras mounted either on the trunk or the roof.
The more recent tendency, however, has been to shift away from this model, for a number of reasons. First, most police departments with mobile ALPR have only one or two units at most and, unfortunately, these units cannot be everywhere at once. As a result, criminal offenders are as likely to go unnoticed as not. Secondly, ALPR in the car saddles already busy patrol officers with the burden of having to learn and operate yet another piece of technology. It is far more effective—and safer—if the technology is centrally controlled and monitored and the relevant information is fed to the officer when he or she needs it. This is a model that PlateSmart wholeheartedly supports. The company sees the project in Uruguay as the latest proving ground for the workability of this philosophy.
“We are very satisfied with its performance,” Frechero says, hastening to add that ARES has “lived up to its reputation.”
He further states that the city is also “satisfied with the solution,” but unfortunately is unable to give any details regarding specific cases where the technology has come in useful as the information remains classified. Even with the restrictions that exist on information, however, all indications are that the deployment has been a rousing success. Frechero also compliments PlateSmart and its service and support.
Furthermore, the collaboration between the teams at PlateSmart and SONDA continues, as the two work to train the ARES engine to recognize Uruguayan motorcycle plates.
This article can be found in the May 2016 issue of Security Today.