B.C. Police to Study U.S. License Plate Recognition

WINNIPEG (CP) - It's described as a tool of the future for law enforcement, but if you've spent anytime driving in the United States this summer, chances are you've already met it.

It's called Licence Plate Recognition and police and border security agencies use it to record a vehicle's licence plate and cross-check it with databases that house stolen vehicle lists, unregistered and unlicensed vehicles and outstanding arrest warrants.

Insp. Mike Diack said Mounties in Surrey, B.C., will begin a study in October to see if LPR can catch car thieves in the act of driving a stolen car.

Five LPR cameras will be installed in police patrol cars and when activated, they will automatically record all licence plates when the police car is in traffic and compare them with stolen vehicle files.

''We want to get suspects in the vehicles,'' Diack said in an interview at the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators conference in Winnipeg this week.

''The system records 3,000 plates an hour and has a 95 per cent accuracy rate. Our hope is to have the system in place at all ports, airports in time for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.''

LPRs were first installed at U.S. border crossings with Mexico and Canada to track vehicle theft, but since the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, LPR systems are now an integral tool in monitoring possible terrorists.

Only the Toronto Police Service has looked at LPR, but only to ''sweep'' streets looking for parked stolen vehicles, not to catch thieves driving in one.

Mikel Longman, chief of Arizona Department of Public Safety criminal investigations division, said LPR has been used by his force for about eight months to look for stolen cars.

He said use of the cameras does not violate a motorist's privacy.

''It's no different than what police officers already do; it just does it more efficiently,'' he said.

(Winnipeg Free Press)