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(ANPR) Automatic Number Plate Recognition

Use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) by Dorset Police


What is ANPR and why we use it

ANPR devices work by scanning vehicle registration numbers using a combination of specific cameras linked to computer processors and specialised software, which check the registration numbers of all vehicles read against information stored in databases including the Police National Computer in just a few hundreds of a second. This is used to identify vehicles of interest to the police such as stolen cars or those involved in crimes. When a suspicious vehicle is recognised, Police officers can intercept and stop the vehicle, check it for evidence and, where necessary, make arrests or, live alerts from the camera can be sent to our Force Control Room for further investigation. The data from each number plate read is then stored in a secure server.

ANPR technology is used within Dorset to help detect, deter and disrupt criminality at a local, force, regional and national level, including tackling traveling criminals, Organised Crime Groups and terrorists. ANPR provides lines of enquiry and evidence in the investigation of crime and is used by forces throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.


What can it do?

The use of ANPR in this way has proved to be important in the detection of many offences, including locating stolen vehicles, tackling uninsured vehicle use and uncovering cases of major crime. It also allows officers’ attention to be drawn to offending vehicles whilst allowing law abiding drivers to go about their business unhindered.

ANPR evidence has been used in a number of high profile cases in Dorset only recently, and is used every day to solve crimes at all levels. Without the specialised evidence it can often provide, many such cases would take significantly longer to solve or else would struggle to gain a conviction at court.

Vehicles of interest which are added to ANPR are provided from many areas as diverse as calls to Crimestoppers, Court records of driving offences and to intelligence received from Police Officers. Such data is investigated for it’s validity and if the specific requirements around the use of such intelligence can be met, then the detail will be added to an ANPR database.


What is it being used for?

ANPR is an invaluable tool in the campaign to make our communities safer. There is an ambitious programme of crime reduction measures, harnessing the powers of this technology to drive down crime. By targeting criminals through their use of the roads the police will be better able to enforce the law, prevent crime and detect offenders and at the same time, increase casualty reduction by removing unsafe vehicles and drivers from our roads, particularly those uninsured vehicles or those known to be being driven illegally.

In general terms, the aim of ANPR is to:

  • reduce crime and disorder
  • increase detection rates and the likelihood of positive criminal justice outcomes
  • deter terrorism
  • promote public reassurance
  • enhance intelligence
  • improve road safety.


Access to stored data

ANPR data is stored in our own server and also submitted to the National ANPR Data Centre (NADC) where it is stored together with similar data from other forces for a period of two years. We have clear rules to control access to ANPR data to ensure that access is for legitimate investigation purposes. Authorised members of Dorset Police only have access to ANPR data if it is relevant to their role, and the majority of those who have permission may only do so for a maximum period of 90 days from the date it was collected. Some key senior investigators are authorised to access data for up to 2 years subject to authorisation of a senior officer. After 90 days, access may only be for serious, major or counter terrorism investigations and after 12 months only for major investigations and counter terrorism purposes. The images of most vehicles are deleted from the system after 12 months.

Searches of ANPR data can confirm whether vehicles associated with a known criminal or incident has been in the area at the time of a crime and can dramatically speed up investigations.


Camera locations

In addition to being mounted within police vehicles, ANPR cameras within Dorset are used at fixed locations where they will help to detect, deter and disrupt criminality. In line with national policy, we do not disclose details of our fixed locations as this information is likely to be of benefit to offenders and if known could reduce the value of ANPR to policing.

National guidelines state that proposals to install additional ANPR cameras must include an assessment (Privacy Impact Assessment ) that demonstrates a clear need, taking account of the following factors:

  • national security and counter terrorism;
  • serious, organised and major crime;
  • local crime;
  • community confidence and reassurance, and crime prevention and reduction.

We will consult with persons and organisations with a reasonable interest in the proposal unless that would be contrary to the purpose of the development, namely to detect, deter and disrupt criminality.

Dorset Police is also committed to regularly review the location of ANPR cameras, in the context of the above criteria, to make sure that the continued deployment remains justified. All reviews will include consideration of the impacts on privacy.


How many number plates are ‘read’ each day in Dorset?

There are around 650,000 vehicles registered at the DVLA in Dorset, and most of these will move at least twice a day, plus all the delivery and transiting vehicles which use our roads results in an estimated 1.5million vehicle movements a day in Dorset, of which Dorset Police currently read around 250,000 (2013/14).


Doesn’t this just give police the ability to spy on innocent members of the public?

No more than it gives any police officer any other ability to spy or investigate someone, something which is governed very tightly and legislated under the Regulatory Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). Just a very few percent of all the number plate records taken are ever looked at and then only when in connection with a criminal enquiry by a few trained people. Not every police officer has access to ANPR data. ANPR will only be used to target vehicles where records indicate that an offence has been committed. The technology does no more than check the number plate against records and alert the police where there is cause for concern. There are strict guidelines which have been published and available to everyone on the use of ANPR, and those provide the necessary safeguards to prevent abuse of this technology.


Code of Practice and National Standards

The Surveillance Camera Code of Practice defines guiding principles for the use of ANPR which are applicable to police systems. In addition National ANPR Standards for Policing (NASP) also provide the framework for the operation of ANPR by the police and other law enforcement agencies. Copies of these documents are available at: www.police.uk/information-and-advice/automatic-number-plate-recognition/


Will motorists be able to see the information held on them by Dorset Police?

Dorset Police are registered with the Information Commissioners Office as authorised to hold and manage public and Police data in accordance with current data protection principles, laws and guidance, and as such data protection laws will apply to any records associated with ANPR the same as any other policing activity however, data gathered for policing purposes is not usually given up to members of the public except is specific circumstances


Does ANPR Infringe my Human Rights?

No, ANPR in fact enhances the Human Rights of law abiding citizens by providing additional security through assisting the police to target only criminals and terrorists. ANPR also enhances the freedom of movement of law abiding citizens by only targeting the criminal and leaving persons using the roads lawfully to travel unhindered by the police.


Further information

The Chief Constable is the data controller for the ANPR system operated within Dorset Police. Any requests for further information can be made by completing our online enquiry form 

Information can also be found on the National Police Chiefs' Council's website here