Licence Plate Scanning Technology and Program in British Columbia

February 3, 2018

Automated Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR)

Automated Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR) technology is used for law enforcement and other purposes. In British Columbia, police agencies use ALPR to remove unlawful drivers from the road and to identify Motor Vehicle Act infractions and criminal activity that may otherwise go undetected. B.C. RCMP Traffic Services manages and delivers the ALPR program for all police agencies using the technology in B.C.

The ALPR program was started in B.C. as a pilot project of the RCMP and Police Services Division Road Safety Unit. ALPR supports auto crime reduction, and identifies unlicenced or uninsured drivers as well as drivers prohibited or suspended under the Motor Vehicle Act or Criminal Code. These drivers pose a significant risk to the public as they are disproportionally represented in serious collisions.

The ALPR system uses infrared colour cameras and special software to read licence plates at a rate of up to 3,000 per hour. The cameras are mounted on police vehicles and scan licence plates on parked or moving vehicles. The scans are compared with the ALPR hot list, which is generated daily from Insurance Corporation of B.C. (ICBC) and Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) databases.

The secure hot list is loaded into ALPR-equipped police vehicles at the start of each shift. There is no real-time access to ICBC or CPIC drivers’ databases. A sound will alert the police officer if a scan results in a hit. The police officer must then confirm the hit against the live ICBC and CPIC databases. If the hit is confirmed, the officer responds as appropriate.

In the case of a hit, ALPR records the image of the vehicle, as well as its plate number, the date, time and GPS coordinates of the vehicle and the type of hit. The police officer will record what action was taken. No distinguishing features of vehicle occupants can be seen in 98% of the pictures taken because the camera focuses on the plate.

When a licence plate scan does not yield a hit, data about the plate is deleted from the ALPR system at the end of the officer’s shift. The only data that are saved are the date, time and GPS coordinates, which are kept for statistical purposes.

The ICBC database provides information on licence plates associated with:

  • Unlicenced drivers
  • Uninsured motor vehicles
  • Prohibited or suspended drivers

The CPIC database provides information on licence plates associated with:

  • Stolen vehicles
  • Canada-wide and B.C.-wide warrants
  • Amber alerts

from the Government of BC website: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/criminal-justice/policing-in-bc/road-safety-auto-crime/auto-licence-place-recognition