Forecourt in the act

In a bid to cut vehicle crime, Kent police are to test a system that links their database with privately owned automatic number plate recognition cameras.

Kent police are to test a system that links their database with privately owned automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras in petrol stations, car parks and housing developments, in a bid to cut vehicle crime.

The pilot scheme, due to begin in the next few weeks, will be run by ANPR specialist Vehicle Intelligence, based at the University of Kent, which has created a data centre to receive information from different locations and transmit it to Kent Police.

Paul Jarvis, head of business development at Vehicle Intelligence, said the system could help reduce burglaries and car thefts by recognising stolen vehicles or those known to have been used in criminal activities. It could also provide police with valuable extra minutes to respond to an incident.

‘We found that privately owned ANPR systems don’t talk to the police-owned systems, so we are creating a link between them,’ Jarvis said.

‘A lot of people try to steal petrol from garage forecourts, but with ANPR, as the car drives off the number plate is recognised, goes into the system and through us to the police. So instantly it will mean an improved response, rather than waiting for the call to come in.’

The system could also recognise the number plates of cars whose owners have a history of driving off without paying and alert garage owners, allowing them to shut off the pump and prevent further theft, said Jarvis.

Alongside Kent Police, Vehicle Intelligence will be working with other government agencies on the project, although Jarvis declined to name them.

During the year-long pilot scheme, the company and its commercial partner Civica, which supplies software to police forces, will provide participating sites with a complete system including an ANPR camera, computer, software and the communications equipment to connect it to the data centre at Vehicle Intelligence.

At the end of the project the company hopes to be able to expand the scheme to the rest of the country.

‘Kent Police are our development partners, but a number of other forces are now interested,’ said Jarvis.

‘There is no reason why it can’t be a national project, and we hope it will be. All cars have to go on to the forecourt to fill up, so you could start to substantially reduce the number of stolen vehicles in the country.’

Researchers at the university will also assess the system’s impact on local crime as the project progresses.