security gate house using security cameras

Neighborhood License Plate Readers Catch a Killer

Security cameras provide strong deterrence for neighborhoods and swim/tennis facilities, but they do much more than that. The following incident involving NT Security surveillance cameras and license plate readers demonstrates why criminals should think twice before messing with a secure neighborhood.

A Senseless Tragedy

On the evening of March 12th, 2017, just before dark in a sleepy subdivision near Loganville GA, residents were alarmed to hear the sound of gunshots and sirens signaling the fatal shooting of a young man in the neighborhood. A nineteen year old resident had been involved in an argument with three other teens who eventually shot him at close range and simply drove away in the dark.

Fortunately, because the neighborhood association was serious about security and had recently upgraded their surveillance camera setup, justice for the victim’s family and neighbors would come quickly and decisively.

Law enforcement was on the scene immediately that night, but the three suspects were already long gone. Detectives needed more than vague accounts from witnesses of the shooter’s car and appearance. That’s when NT Security got involved.

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide from Cloud Video

You can run but not hide from license plate scanners

Screenshot of AJC.com story reporting capture & arrest of neighborhood murder suspects.

I received an urgent call from my HOA customer shortly after the incident. She explained the tragedy and requested I assist detectives immediately with pulling and isolating the relevant footage from neighborhood cameras.  Of course, I was happy to provide whatever help I could.

Even though the HOA had access to the footage locally, I was glad they called me to help during the initial crisis. The initial response to any violent crime heightens anxiety and emotions, making it that much more challenging to navigate large volumes of video storage efficiently. Working remotely, isolating and enhancing the cloud video footage took me only a few minutes. I was able to immediately start providing detectives with critical intelligence.

In the following few minutes between that call and when the detectives reached me, I was able to locate and enhance imagery of the suspects, the make and model of the getaway car, and a couple of crucial, high quality captures of the car’s license plate. I threw everything the police needed into a Dropbox folder and sent the link to their mobile phones for quick action.

Neighborhood License Plate Scanners Catch a Killer

Wisely, the homeowner’s association had recently upgraded to remote, cloud storage of their security footage. That made it possible for me to quickly access their surveillance recordings without needing to be on site to pull it off of a DVR or SD Card. With the costs so low, I always recommend affordable cloud video surveillance to customers. When you are planning for unknown intrusions, crimes, and disasters, it just makes sense to have a backup copy stored off-premises. In this case, however, it was rapid, remote access that really proved the value of cloud-hosted video.

Because of the placement of cameras around the community swim and tennis area, the HOA captured the actual incident itself. This meant we were able later to provide prosecution with thumb drives full of footage showing the actions of all involved.

Armed with clear high-resolution night view captures of the car and license plate, authorities quickly identified prime suspects and were able to locate and arrest the driver that night. Two other accomplices, both 17 years old, including the alleged shooter, would be arrested and charged with armed robbery and murder over the next 2-3 days.

Licence Plate Readers for an HOA?

A little over a year before this tragic homicide, a lesser incident prompted neighborhood association board members to invest in upgraded security cameras and security system infrastructure. As part of my standard onsite security assessment, I recommended that they also add high resolution license plate readers at neighborhood entry points.

Typically, community association customers are concerned with providing access control, deterring petty crime, managing risk and liability around the clubhouse and swim and tennis area. Increasingly however, there is interest from HOA Boards and Neighborhood Watch groups in setting up license plate readers or tag scanners to deter would-be troublemakers, cut down on speeding, and help authorities apprehend criminals.

License Plate Scanner FAQs

Example of a license plate camera capture

Capturing a clear license plate scan takes a very special camera.

If you’re a property management group, community association, or neighborhood watch team thinking about installing tag reading surveillance cameras on your roads, here are a few considerations I share with my customers during their initial security assessment:

  1. License plate cameras are not just shorter video cameras
    License plate cameras are not simply regular video cameras installed at a low angles. They are highly specialized, purpose-built cameras tasked with the difficult job of recognizing, isolating, and highlighting license plates on fast-moving vehicles.  Don’t believe me? Do this as an experiment sometime. Position yourself a safe distance from a dark road some night and use your iphone to take pictures of passing cars. Because of the speed, the high-contrast reflectivity, and small subject matter, you’ll quickly find it can be a real challenge to get a clear image of a readable plate.
  2. License plate readers are not “point-and-shoot” installations
    License plate scanners need to be professionally installed. Because of the angles involved in capturing plates on diverse types of cars flowing in different traffic patterns, do-it-yourself security camera installations generally fail. Don’t waste the money on a nice camera and then settle for an amateur installation.
  3. Show off your security cameras, but hide your license plate reader
    Like regular security cameras, license plate readers can also provide a degree of visual deterrence to would-be criminals. However, we don’t recommend positioning license plate scanners in the same, obvious way. It’s better if they are not prominently displayed, so criminals won’t attempt to drive around (or over) them.
  4. License plates are public information
    Finally, tag readers are not an invasion of anyone’s privacy and therefore do not require special notification to passing drivers. In most local jurisdictions, license plates are considered public information, and anyone may capture and record tag numbers on film or video. As always, check with your local authorities to confirm compliance.

Thankfully, violent crimes, kidnappings, and homicides like the one described above are rare. But, that doesn’t mean you should let regular criminals just cruise in and out of your neighborhood without easy and affordable accountability provided by a professionally installed video surveillance system.

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