The Puyenbroeck region police zone covers the East Flanders municipalities of Lochristi, Moerbeke, Wachtebeke and Zelzate. In 2014, the police equipped an unmarked car with an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) camera. This was the start of a wider project using this method. “Later that year we set up a digital HGV lock in Zelzate,” acting Superintendent Koen Van Poucke explains.
With this solution, the police successfully keep heavy through traffic away from the centre of the municipality. “ANPR cameras have been installed at two locations. We use height sensors to record the heavy traffic. We can identify offenders who drive through the restricted zone without a permit afterwards using the number plate recognition.”
The positive experience with ANPR prompted the police zone to further extend the use of this technology. “We advocate deploying technical means that help us with our work,” says Koen Van Poucke. “In that context, I like to talk about smart cops. We use innovation to make society safer.”
In collaboration with Proximus, the police rolled out a camera shield in the four municipalities in the Puyenbroeck region police zone. “A wave of burglaries in a business park was the trigger. We soon decided not just to protect the business park with cameras, but to roll out the ANPR principle throughout the police zone.”
In practical terms, Proximus installed eleven poles fitted with a total of 21 cameras. Except in one location, each of the camera poles has a surveillance camera and an ANPR camera. “The cameras have a preventive effect,” says Koen Van Poucke. “Criminals avoid places where there are cameras.” In addition, the automatic registration of the number plates assists the police with their work.
The police zone records about three million passing vehicles per month. “This big data contains information that helps us find stolen vehicles or missing persons. Registering number plates is also useful in the fight against roaming groups of offenders, or to detect uninsured drivers and non-approved vehicles.”
The Puyenbroeck region police zone adopts a very targeted approach to searching through the ANPR data. They do so among other things by checking whether the number plates recorded appear in lists of reported vehicles. In almost one case in five, this provides information that helps the police investigation.
“In a number of files, the number plate data were even crucial in resolving serious crimes,” according to the superintendent. That is why the police want to make use of the camera shield more in real time before long. “If a camera reads a reported number plate, that will immediately generate an alert for the intervention teams on the ground.”
The police zone lies in the area near the Dutch border and includes the municipalities of Lochristi, Moerbeke, Wachtebeke and Zelzate. The 103 staff provide policing for 49,000 inhabitants.
Koen Van Poucke studied criminology at the University of Ghent. Since 2013, he has been acting superintendent in the Puyenbroeck region police zone.
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