Licence-plate cameras to trap criminals
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Licence-plate cameras to trap criminals

London Times | November 7 2004

IRISH criminals, be warned: your number could soon be up. Gardai are planning to introduce new road cameras capable of scanning licence-plate numbers and matching them to people wanted for crimes.
The Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) devices will be linked to computers storing police and court records and will alert officers if a criminal's car is identified.

The cameras can read numbers even when cars are moving at high speed and can process up to 3,000 plates an hour.

The checks are carried out almost instantaneously and police alerted within seconds.

In a number of countries, they have already been used to catch drug dealers and thieves as well as people who have failed to pay parking or court fees. A spokesman for the gardai said plans to install the equipment were at the “early stages”. A garda working group has been established to advise on what devices could be matched to technology already in use in Ireland such as that being developed to automate the penalty points system.

The cameras can be operated from the side of the road or fitted to police cars. In Ireland, they are likely to be used at ports and along the border to help prevent the exportation of stolen cars.

In Britain, ANPR cameras have been used by police forces in pilot tests and have proved so successful that the government plans to extend use nationwide at a cost of £15m (€21.5m).

Recent figures showed that during a 12-month period, police in 23 force areas made nearly 13,500 arrests for a wide range of offences using the cameras. The arrest rate was more than nine times the national average.

Police intercept teams stopped 180,000 vehicles, recovered 1,152 stolen ones, found stolen goods worth more than £640,000 and drugs valued at £380,000. They found 13 firearms and 266 offensive weapons. Most of the arrests were for driving offences, more than 2,000 were for theft and burglary and the rest were for vehicle theft and drug offences.

David Blunkett, Britain's home secretary, said the cameras were a “powerful tool” in the fight against crime. But civil rights movements in Britain have complained the new technology further advances a “Big Brother-style society” in which every move is monitored. Police have countered that only those suspected of committing a crime are stopped and therefore innocent people have nothing to fear.

The system works by sending the car's information to databases held by the courts, the police and the country's vehicle licensing authority. The technology can also be attached to speed cameras, immediately identifying the owner of the car and starting the process of sending out a ticket.

Conor Faughnan, of the Automobile Association (AA), said: “People can argue that they shouldn't have to live their lives with police looking over their shoulder and this is what these cameras do. It's almost like allowing your home to be searched for no reason. You may have nothing to hide, but that doesn't mean you would want to let them look.”

It is known, however, that the garda Pulse computer system already allows officers to run checks on car number plates. Any such cameras could be linked into this system.

The Department of Transport is also planning to introduce privately run speed cameras throughout the country. It has yet to invite tenders for the project, but it may have the option of using cameras that incorporate ANPR technology. Legislation currently going through the Dail will allow private operators to be involved in maintaining the cameras.

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