News / Ottawa

Ottawa police using postal code data to nab suspended drivers

After a successful year, Ottawa police are continuing to beef up their technological approach to catching suspended drivers, with data analytics and automatic readers.

Ottawa Police Service

Ottawa police have begun using predictive police methods, in conjunction with automatic license plate reading technology to nab drivers with expired license plates and suspended drivers.

Sergeant Rob Cairns, who has headed up the ALPR program since it was officially introduced just over a year ago, confirmed that Ottawa police have begun targeting their use of ALPR-equipped vehicles (of which Ottawa now has two) to areas that, using data provided to them through an agreement with the MTO, contain a higher proportion of license plates in poor standing.

“We get a list of suspended drivers from the MTO, and [an Ottawa police crime analyst] has produced a heat map very recently,” said Cairns, in an interview last week. “By postal code, he can actually designate areas that have large amounts of suspended drivers.”

Cairns said that moving forward, Ottawa police will be “concentrating our enforcement on that heat map, initially.”

It does not appear that this was initially the way the data was meant to be used: in data-sharing agreement documents between Ottawa Police and the MTO specifically regarding the ALPR program, postal code data is not included. According to the MTO, “police services also have access under agreement to other licensing information for law enforcement purposes which does include postal codes.”

The Information Privacy Commission’s best practice guidelines for ALPR data use say that police departments should limit the data they pull from “hotlists” — the database of plates in poor standing, in this instance. Concerning ALPR data, this list does not include geographic data.

Ottawa police say that their use of postal code data to catch expired drivers is limited to a disaggregated heat map. “All I get is a map. I don’t get any individual’s information at all,” said Cairns last week. “All I get is literally a map of Ottawa, and if it’s red, that’s a hot area.”

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