License Plate Recognition Reposession in the 21st Century

Technology has transformed the car repossession business from an art to a science. In 2001 the courts ruled that one’s license plate is not protected by 4th amendment privacy rights. This allows private businesses to collect, exchange and sell information pertaining to one’s license plate. The technology, known as License Plate Recognition (LPR) sprang¬†into the car repossession agent’s toolbox.

License Plate Recognition is a technology that utilizes the digital video output of a camera to “pick out” a license plate from each frame of a video. The license plate image is enhanced by a computer and then optical character recognition is used to translate a picture into searchable text. The output of text is then compared to a database of license plates compiled by interested parties (ie lenders and dealers).

Today’s LPR technology can resolve and compare a license plate image in less than one second with the image of the license plate passing the camera at over 55 miles per hour!. A vehicle mounted camera can easily scan entire parking lots in a few minutes compared to the hours it took in days of old. This combined with GPS allows “spotter” cars to identify cars and mark their location for repossession.¬†This technology can also work on a smartphone, allowing the truck operator to confirm a “marked” car before towing it away. LPR systems range from $2,000 to $15,000 dollars per vehicle. The more robust systems scan all 360 degrees around the vehicle.

Another new tool in the repo tool box is the Jerr-Dann Element. This is a truck mounted jack that allows a repo agent to deftly hook up to cars and tow them away. The operator backs the lift up to the front tire, and then the lift does the rest. It manuvers around and “finds” the other tire, then two arms lock behind the back of the tire. It can quickly pull a car out even in tightly paralleled parked situations. The jack plus the truck runs approximately $55,000. This is a far cheaper alternative than a boom mounted tow truck.