THUNDER BAY — It's going to get a lot harder for motorists to drive in Thunder Bay with a suspended licence, an expired plate or an arrest warrant.
The Thunder Bay Police Service will soon have 31 of their cruisers equipped with licence plate recognition technology.
The system uses three cameras to scan the licence plate of any passing or parked vehicle and enter it into a Ministry of Transportation database.
Results show up on a screen mounted on the dash, and an alert sounds to notify the officer to initiate a traffic stop.
Thunder Bay police installed the equipment on just one cruiser in late 2020, but acting traffic unit Sgt. Sal Carchidi said it's proved its worth.
"It's extremely valuable. It's identifying suspended drivers, drivers with outstanding criminal warrants, and vehicles of interest to police or other policing agencies in the province," he said Wednesday.
Without access to this system, police would only be able to pull over a driver if they witnessed a specific infraction, or if they recognized a vehicle previously linked to a traffic violation or crime.
Carchidi didn't have immediate access to the number of times the unit has resulted in the apprehension of a motorist, but said it's instrumental in identifying violators every day that it's deployed.
"Anytime it's operational, it's producing almost quicker than an officer could keep up with identifying the drivers or vehicles of interest."
Carchidi said that being pulled over often comes as a big surprise to drivers who've been very careful to stay under the radar.
"Drivers who are suspended or out of compliance or maybe using wrong licence plates tend not to draw attention to themselves. So they might be driving the speed limit, wearing their seat belt, doing everything normal, but it's just unavoidable" with this technology, he said.
Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Kevin Holland confirmed $286,000 in funding from the Ministry of the Solicitor General to pay for the new equipment.
He pointed out that the technology can also help locate missing persons and vehicles associated with AMBER alerts.
Solicitor General Michael Kerzner said the system is an important asset, as well, for police investigations into auto thefts.
Thunder Bay police have stated that the data collected when the system is in use is purged except in cases where there's a confirmed offence.