Arresting by numbers

An automatic car number plate recognition system being piloted in the UK has already been used to foil the alleged abduction of a teenager.

The system, which has been on trial in Canterbury since December, consists of a network of CCTV cameras, four dedicated infrared cameras capable of operating 24 hours a day, and a mobile Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) unit.

The technology has had several successes when used to apprehend suspected drug dealers and burglars.

A report of the abduction incident, which is alleged to have taken place elsewhere in Kent earlier this year, was entered on to the county police database, including details of the suspect’s vehicle.

Within 40 minutes, the ANPR system had identified the vehicle and police were able to intercept it, said Paul Jarvis, responsible for business development at Vehicle Intelligence, the company which was set up to commercialise the technology.

A man was arrested and has since been charged with abducting a minor.

Images taken by the cameras are analysed by the number plate recognition system, and the details are checked against local and national police databases, said Jon Carroll, who was project manager for the technology while a DC with Kent Police Force, and is now managing director of Vehicle Intelligence.

‘The information is sent to a dedicated control room in Canterbury, as well as to Kent’s central command centre,’ said Carroll.

The mobile ANPR camera is used in police vehicles to catch those drivers who use rat runs in an attempt to avoid the fixed cameras.

The system has also been used to alert police officers to the arrival of predatory sex offenders to the area, and to catch bank card fraudsters, said Carroll.

‘We have recently had people using the so-called Lebanese Loop to defeat cash dispensers (a false card slot is fixed over the machine with a very thin loop attached to prevent the card being returned).

‘As a result of the information obtained from the cameras, we were able to find out that a vehicle known to have been in the vicinity of the crime was wanted inconnection with other offences in London,’ he said.

‘We managed to intercept the car, and officers followed this up by looking at its recent movements. They found it had been used to travel to other places in the area where crimes had also been committed.’

The system allows police to identify suspicious behaviour, for example the same car appearing in a number of different university car parks within a short period of time.’It could be completely innocent. they could have friends in different colleges, but it could also mean they are committing crimes in the area,’ said Carroll.

Number plate recognition technology, which was first piloted by Northamptonshire police, is being trialled in a number of areas of the UK including Glasgow and Greater Manchester. But Vehicle Intelligence believes the system in place in Kent is the most extensive, with an interconnected network of CCTV, infrared and mobile cameras.

Having proved the system works, the team is planning to extend it to another area of Kent within the next few months, and later throughout the whole county.

Vehicle Intelligence is working with researchers at the University of Kent to investigate other uses for the system, such as to monitor academic institutions and industrial estates.

ANPR technology enhances policing skills, and often uncovers unexpected results, said PC Chas Alder, a researcher for the project with Kent police.

‘Quite frequently we find that one car will be used illegally by four or five individuals. We want to disrupt that activity.’