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The Police Service of Northern Ireland's Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras are used in various types of patrol cars, Roads Policing patrol cars, as well as at dedicated fixed sites.

Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR)

Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology, which reads and retains vehicle registration plates, is used by the Police Service of Northern Ireland in both a fixed and mobile capacity throughout Northern Ireland.

ANPR provides lines of enquiry and evidence in the investigation of crime and is used by forces throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

ANPR supports the police to:

  • Disrupt criminal use of motor vehicles
  • Locate and recover stolen vehicles
  • Prevent and detect crime
  • Arrest offenders
  • Identify and prosecute offenders using illegal, un-insured and un-taxed vehicles

How it works

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.  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.

Access to stored data

The Police Service of Northern Ireland retains and analyses ANPR data collected in Northern Ireland. We have clear rules controlling access to ANPR data and we adhere to the National ANPR Standards for Policing and Law Enforcement. Staff 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. Certain staff are authorised to access data older than 90 days subject to further scrutiny. After 90 days, access may only be for serious, major or counter terrorism investigations and where a senior officer has authorised access.

Camera locations

In addition to being mounted on police vehicles, ANPR cameras within Northern Ireland 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 the Police Service 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;
  • public confidence and reassurance, and crime prevention and reduction.

In assessing whether new cameras are to be deployed, a Data Protection Impact Assessment will be undertaken.  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. The Police Service of Northern Ireland 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.

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 (NASPLE) also provide the framework for the operation of ANPR by the police and other law enforcement agencies. Copies of these documents are available at the website.

General FAQs

  • ANPR technology, coupled with immediate follow-up police action has the potential to deny criminals the use of the roads. ANPR is an enormously effective operational tool which allows the police to target known offenders. Officers engaged on ANPR operations arrest significantly more offenders than patrol officers would in the normal course of their duties.

  • Every force in the UK as well as An Garda Síochána use ANPR, this intelligence-led policing tool is fast becoming a core policing activity.

  • ANPR is an invaluable tool in the campaign to make our roads safer. There is an ambitious programme of crime reduction measures, harnessing the power of this technology to drive down crime. By denying criminals the use of the road, the police will be better able to enforce the law, prevent crime and detect offenders. ANPR can assist casualty reduction by removing uninsured, unsafe vehicles and drivers from our roads.

  • Far from taking police away from catching criminals, ANPR is an effective policing tool that can be used in the detection of criminals and in crime reduction generally. It is known that motoring offences are often associated with other crime. Experience has shown that stopping vehicles where a motoring offence has been committed, often leads to arrests for more serious offences. ANPR has become a valuable tool in fighting crime and will deny criminals the use of the roads.

  • No. The policing of our streets are not affected by the use of ANPR. In fact, high-visibility policing is enhanced by ANPR operations. The overt nature of ANPR operations and the associated policing activity is generally welcomed as its use leads to increased crime detection and arrests.

  • Experience with ANPR has revealed very strong links between the use of motor vehicles on the road and criminality. The wider use of ANPR has led to the arrest and conviction of criminals for offences other than those motoring offences for which they have been stopped. This is a valuable tool in the fighting of crime more generally.

  • No, this would defeat the purpose of them, criminals would avoid these areas. If motorists are law abiding, they need have no concerns as to where these devices may be sited.

  • The collection of data and camera setup is such that rarely is any image of sufficient quality to provide identification of vehicle occupants, the identification of vehicle occupants is not what the system is designed or used for. The primary aim and focus is to read the vehicle registration number.

Policing the Roads

  • Vehicles will only be stopped if records suggest that some form of road traffic offence has been committed or there is a known police interest. Using ANPR, law-abiding citizens are less likely to be stopped by the police.

  • The safety of road users and officers is our primary concern. Units will be located where it is possible for the police to intercept vehicles without undue risk to other motorists in general. In ANPR operations, safe stopping techniques are used and can be a planned part of the operation, as opposed to chance sightings of offenders by patrol officers. There should be no increased risk to the average road user.

  • No. ANPR focuses on improving road safety, preventing/detecting crimes and is not a means for detecting speeding offences.

Human Rights

  • Criminals are becoming increasingly more sophisticated in their activities; therefore, the police need to update their crime-fighting methods. The technology used will alert the police if there are legitimate concerns that the law has been broken; it will do little more than that. ANPR allows the police to focus on those who break the law. This means that people lawfully using our roads will do so unhindered by the police. There are very strict management processes in place to ensure that ANPR data is only used for legitimate policing purposes.

  • No. ANPR, in fact enhances the human rights of law-abiding citizens by providing additional security though assisting the police to target criminals. It also enhances the freedom of movement of law-abiding citizens by only targeting the criminal element, thereby leaving other people who use the roads lawfully and safely, to travel unhindered by the police.

  • ANPR acts as a search tool. It’s only where a vehicle is of interest to the police because a motoring offence is noted, or there is other known criminal activity associated with it, that a vehicle would be stopped.