VIDEO: Driving criminals off the roads

Speeding along the A505 at 110mph in pursuit of a stolen Audi was a very exciting way for me to start my Wednesday morning, but for Bedfordshire Police officers it’s just another day at work, writes Connie Primmer.

Along with video reporter Natalee Hazelwood, I joined the ANPR team for Operation Sentinel as they focused on Luton and its Beds and Herts borders.

Operation Sentinel

Operation Sentinel

Combining the ANPR technology with officers’ instinct, Operation Sentinel is a proactive way of taking criminals off the roads.

Sgt Adam Smith, leading Wednesday’s operation, said: “The aim of the operation is to deny criminals the use of the road.

“The ANPR technology means we can scan vehicle registrations to identify vehicles of interest such as stolen cars and cars with no insurance or tax.

“The experienced officers can also spot when something doesn’t look right. It’s instinct; if they see a suspicious -looking vehicle they can ring for a check via PNC and find out if it’s a vehicle of interest.”

Operation Sentinel

Operation Sentinel

We witnessed officers’ instinct in action, when PC Shona Gillen and her colleague noticed a red van on a roundabout in Leighton Buzzard.

Suspicious of the van, they followed it whilst phoning for a PNC check which revealed the vehicle was not insured.

The van driver attempted to shake police off by going round and round the roundabout by Billington Road, before eventually pulling into the petrol station.

As the driver attempted to look inconspicuous filling up the van with petrol, officers pulled up and spoke to him.

Operation Sentinel

Operation Sentinel

PC Gillen said: “The driver absolutely reeked of diesel and his vehicle had no insurance. There has been a spate of diesel thefts in the area recently so we suspected he could be connected to that.”

As officers waiting for more information from PNC they searched the driver and the van – which was equipped with tools to steal fuel, as well as several cans of cider.

Back-up arrived and an officer breathalised the man.

Considering it was 9.30am, even the experienced officers were a little surprised to find the man’s reading was 115; more than three times the legal limit of 35.

He was promptly arrested on suspicion of being equipped to steal, for driving while disqualified and driving over the drink-drive limit. His van taken away as evidence by police.

Sgt Smith said: “Quite a significant number of people are arrested but we try to deal with people at the roadside if possible.”

Officers use ANPR technology every day, but every six to eight weeks all the collaborative forces of Cambs, Herts and Beds work together on Operation Sentinel across the borders.

Sgt Smith said: “We have a large database of information and we specifically go out there and target criminals, that’s what makes it effective. Together with the combined experience of the officers makes it a very proactive and useful tool.”