Criminals are the bait for Big Fish

Police Professional looks at some of the latest developments and innovative applications of CCTV and ANPR

Jun 3, 2004
By Keith Potter
Police-recorded hate crimes in England and Wales. PA Graphic. Source Home Office. Figure for 2019/20 not included due to missing data.

Police Professional looks at some of the latest developments and innovative applications of CCTV and ANPR

CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems have been in operation for several years, pioneered in the early days largely by the introduction during the 1990s of the ‘Ring of Steel’ to protect London from terrorism.

Alongside manned checkpoints and CCTV cameras, ANPR was introduced by the City of London police in 1997 and, as well as strengthening the Force`s anti-terrorist policing measures, it has helped to reinforce much wider policing activities.

In its first three years of operation, it scanned 75 million vehicles; 1200 hundred people were arrested as a result, in connection with crimes including murder, sexual assault and armed robbery.

In the intervening years the use of ANPR has proliferated, with some forces introducing mobile, in-car systems, and others adopting a multi-agency approach with organisations such as the DVLA and Customs and Excise to mount specific operations.

But now the latest implementation of ANPR by West Yorkshire Police has been hailed by the force as the ‘best investigative tool’ since the introduction of DNA analysis.

So what makes the Big Fish system now operating in Bradford so revolutionary? The system uses 18 ANPR scanners attached to the city’s 130 CCTV cameras to read around 80,000 numbers plates on vehicles entering the city centre on a daily basis.

The numbers – including partial identifications – are checked against both local ‘hotlists’ and the PNC in less than a second, and any match sends a simultaneous alert to both the CCTV control room, where cameras are monitored by staff from Bradford Metropolitan District Council, and to the force’s Area Despatch Centre; but the information contained within the alerts is very different, as Chf Supt Geoff Dodd explained.

“While the reason for any alert will be flagged up with the relevant information on our screens, the message sent to the CCTV control, room shows that the vehicle is important to us, but not why,” said Chf Supt Dodd.

The CCTV cameras closest to that ANPR scanner will also automatically focus on the routes likely to be taken by the suspect vehicle, while officers can decide what action needs to be taken. Rather than stopping vehicles in an indiscriminate manner, officers responding to alerts from the system can do so in a focused way with significantly improved chances of detecting offences and disrupting criminals.

“In some cases we may simply want to monitor that vehicle for operational reasons, in other cases we may need to take more direct action. But this system is ideal for both overt and covert observation, as well as preventing and detecting crime.”

The system was developed jointly by the force and the local authority in partnership with IT company Genesis UK.

“This is a unique system in the UK in that it is police led and is primarily used as a crime-fighting tool. It is a jointly run police and local authority system to detect criminal offences and limit the criminal use of vehicles,” said Chf Supt Dodd.

“The importance of this system in the fight against crime cannot be underestimated. Denying criminals use of the roads denies access to the primary means of transport for a whole raft of criminal activity.

“It includes the transportation of drugs, stolen property and articles for use in crime, as well as transport for offenders to and from the scenes of crimes such as robberies and burglaries.

“The bottom line is that if a stolen vehicle comes into Bradford city centre – we’ll know about it. If a vehicle is wanted in connection with a crime and comes into Bradford city centre – we’ll know about it.

“I believe that this is the best investigative tool we have had since the introduction of DNA analysis. DNA broke new ground for the police service and this is another revolutionary tool in detecting crime.”

In the eight-week trial period before Big Fish went live last month, the system read an average of 78,000 number plates a day. Twenty sto

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