Police is expanding its use of automated technology to catch criminals and make the roads safer for all users.
Assistant Commissioner Road Policing, Dave Cliff, says Police is expanding its use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology, which has already proven successful in removing high risk drivers, unsafe vehicles and criminals from the road.
The technology, which has been in use by Police since 2009 in five patrol vehicles, is widely used overseas, and is now being fitted in an additional 13 vehicles in the Police fleet. One of the new vehicles recently went into service in the Bay of Plenty, with another to go to Tasman district shortly. The remaining vehicles will be rolled out to police districts and the Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit gradually over the next few months as other vehicles become due for replacement.
Using cameras mounted on the roof of the patrol vehicle, the ANPR system scans the number plates of passing vehicles and feeds the information to a computer inside the vehicle. The system instantly checks the details against information already held by Police about vehicles of interest, and if found, it alerts the officer for follow up.
"The ANPR unit only captures the number plates of those vehicles that are of interest to Police, such as those that may have been ordered of the road or are otherwise unsafe, or that have been used in crime," Mr Cliff says. "It does not capture any personal information about drivers or passengers, and is operated without disrupting law-abiding road users."
Mr Cliff says the technology simply automates a process Police normally have to do manually via an officer calling a radio dispatcher – and accesses information that Police already hold.
"The advantage of ANPR is that it provides the vehicle information to our officers instantly in real time, so they are able to make a decision on the spot and respond immediately if they need to take action."
Mr Cliff says strict protocols govern the use of ANPR, with all information recorded by the system deleted after 48 hours.
"It's important to stress that the technology is vehicle-focussed, so average law-abiding road users have nothing to worry about. However, it has proven a very effective tool for Police in removing unsafe vehicles and high risk drivers from the roads – including those who are disqualified or otherwise forbidden to drive – as well as capturing wanted criminals.
"The law-abiding public tell us they don't want to be sharing the roads with these kinds of people, and the rollout of these additional units will help Police to keep the public safer.
"That has been supported by our experience with ANPR to date, which reveals strong links between unsafe vehicles, unsafe drivers and criminality. Use of ANPR has led to the arrest and conviction of criminals for offences other than those for which they have been stopped, making it a valuable tool in fighting crime.
"For example, during a recent incident in the Waikato, Police used ANPR to stop a stolen vehicle – only to find that those in the car were also carrying a quantity of methamphetamine. As a result, the drugs were seized and the occupants arrested, before the drugs could find their way to the streets.
"In another three-month ANPR operation in Counties-Manukau, Police recovered 15 stolen vehicles, took 180 disqualified, forbidden or suspended drivers off the road, and recovered stolen property from various offenders. In another instance, a wanted bail absconder who was on a burglary and fraud spree, targeting elderly people in rest homes using a disguise, was caught after trying to flee, and if not for ANPR would have left more victims in his wake."
Mr Cliff says the units cost $35-40k each, including installation into the vehicles. Depending on traffic flow, the ANPR unit is capable of scanning up to 3000 plates in one hour. Units will be located where it is possible for the police to safely intercept vehicles without undue risk to staff or other road users.