Collecting Trusted License Plates

One of the problems with having a Neighborhood video surveillance system is the number of unknown vehicles that show up on any recording.

For any such system to be valuable, the neighborhood group managing the system has to filter out the trusted vehicles in order to locate the suspicious vehicles.

Inherently trusted vehicles

The Firetruck is inherently trusted

The Firetruck is inherently trusted

Some vehicle comes with a certain level of trust based solely their apperance:

  • Police cars
  • Ambulances
  • Firetrucks
  • Garbage Trucks
  • Cement Trucks
  • Fedex
  • UPS
  • USPS

Not so trusted vehicles.

At the other end of the scale are vehicles that are suspicious just because they don’t fit the standard of the neighborhood: This could be because that they are too expenses, too flashy, to loud, too fast, too slow, too colorful, too dilapidated, too old. etc.

The bland majority

Between these two poles are a large number of vehicles that are just ordinary: these are the cars that the bad guys choose when they want to blend in.

On a typical day we have more than 100 unique such cars passing our camera. The only way to be able to distinguish the good cars from the bad is by having a list of trusted license plates.

If you live in an area without garages or with a shared parking structure, the task can be accomplished by just walking with a camera phone a couple of times.

However if you, like us, live in an area were many people park their cars inside garages you will have to engage the owners. The good news is that this actually increases security awareness and the feeling of community, core features of a good Neighborhood security group

  1. Start by sending out emails asking people for License plates
  2. then send out 1 or 2 more nagging emails to get some more addresses.
  3. Finally make a list of all the addresses where you are still missing the licenses and go door-to-door asking people to open the garages.

Where to record the vehicle information.

Some people will find that putting car model/make and license plate on your neighborhood roster makes them uncomfortable.
Most people find that having a trusted vehicle list that is independent of the Roster and is only accessible by a small group of trusted neighbors is the way to go.
Many people will volunteer color, Make and Model in addition to the License plate, some will only give you the license plate. Some will volunteer extra information like year, accessories (like roof-rack and stickers). A good system will have a way to capture this information.

For most group the list is so simple that it can be kept in a single spreadsheet, however if you have more than one person viewing and updating a file based sheet, you will have a hard time making sure everyone has an updated copy

We found that using a hosted shared spreadsheet was the best solution, and are currently using the free Google Docs spreadsheet.


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