Tori Sutton, Stratford Gazette
A high-tech system has given the Perth County OPP a few more eyes on the road.
Media got a special inside look at the automatic licence plate recognition (ALPR) system at a press conference at the Sebringville detachment Wednesday.
Installed in a cruiser, the system features three cameras – two mounted on the front and one on the back – that continuously scan licence plates, immediately verifying its findings against the Ministry of Transportation database.
“Its a really slick and fast system,” said Const. Kees Wijnands.
The Ontario Provincial Police first began using the ALPR in 2009, having purchased three systems for a total cost of $126,000.
Cruisers equipped with the system rotate around the province. It is the first time Perth County OPP have had the technology at its disposal.
Special training is required to operate the ALPR system, and four Perth County OPP officers are currently qualified.
Two officers must be logged in when the cruiser is moving, but one officer can operate it when it is stationary.
As the cruiser moves, or as other vehicles drive by, the cameras continuously scan licence plates, up to 7,000 an hour.
It immediately searches the database to ensure there are no violations – anything from an expired sticker to an outstanding warrant – associated with the plate.
The information is immediately conveyed on a computer screen inside the cruiser, which also makes a beeping noise to alert officers.
A photograph of the offending vehicle, as well as a close-up of its licence plate, are displayed on the onboard computer screen.
In a heavy traffic area, it is surprising how many violations the system can detect.
“When you’re on the 401, it just pings like crazy,” Wijnands said, noting the system has been “incredibly successful” since its implementation.
Often the initial violation detected by the system is the springboard for other charges.
For example, sometimes officers discover a vehicle with an expired validation tag also has no insurance.
“If you don’t have insurance, it’s probably because you are a suspended driver,” he said. “It kind of leads from one thing to another ... it’s actually a great tool to get those people who really shouldn’t be on the road or are skirting the system.”
During its first week in the county, use of the system led to 23 expired licence plate charges and four instances of stickers being affixed to the wrong plates.
There were three charges for driving without insurance, one suspended driver, and one instance of driving without a licence.
There were also one child and two adult seatbelt offences, two cell phone charges and five speeding charges.
Several vehicles had licence plates seized and four vehicles were towed. Two were deemed unsafe for the roadway.
While no stolen vehicles have been flagged in the area by the system, it has been helpful in spotting expired plates on pick-up trucks, where the sticker is placed on the front plate rather than the rear.
“When driving through town is the officer going to notice that very quickly?” Wijnands asked. “No.”
The technology is advanced enough it can read plates that are partially obscured by dirt or have a tinted cover, which Wijnands noted are illegal.
But a hit off the ALPR system isn’t enough in itself to lay a charge.
Const. Jeff Doupe, one of the Perth County officers trained on the system, noted all information must be verified the traditional way through dispatch.
“It gives us reasonable grounds to stop the vehicle, but it wouldn’t provide us with the grounds to actually lay the charge,” he said, noting further investigation is always required.
While an intelligent system, it does sometimes make mistakes. With tourist season in full swing in Stratford, officers have noticed it sometimes reads Michigan plates as if they were Ontario plates.
Doupe showed reporters a photograph taken by the system of one offender – a sandwich board with the word “SUBS.”
Officers quickly picked up on the error, he added, with a laugh.
Joking aside, the ALPR system is a tool that makes identification of offending vehicles easier.
“By the time the vehicle passes you, it will have identified that vehicle as being a match or not a match,” he said.
The Stratford Police Service will also benefit from the technology, partnering with the OPP to have the cruiser on patrol in the city.
Insp. Sam Theocharis said his force is eager to put the system to work in Stratford.