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Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR)

Use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition by Northamptonshire Police

What is ANPR and why we use it

As a vehicle passes an ANPR camera, its registration number is read and instantly checked against database records of vehicles of interest. Police officers can intercept and stop a vehicle, check it for evidence and, where necessary, make arrests.

ANPR technology is used within Northants to help detect, deter and disrupt criminality at local, force, regional and national level. We also use ANPR to help locate missing people.

ANPR provides lines of enquiry and evidence in the investigation, 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.

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
  • Locate missing people
  • 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 Northants 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.

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 Northants 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 if Northants Police proposes to install additional ANPR cameras, an assessment must be conducted 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.

Northants 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.

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 here.

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

Northants 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 Northants Police.


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