BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) — The Mount Hope Bridge will soon be equipped with license plate recognition cameras in an effort to prevent suicides.
The Portsmouth and Bristol police departments will be installing the cameras on both sides of the bridge as part of a one-year pilot program.
The Flock Safety cameras have already been installed in a number of communities statewide, though police have been primarily using them to investigate criminal activity.
But that’s not what they’ll be used for on the bridge, according to Bristol Police Lt. Steven St. Pierre.
St. Pierre said the license plate recognition cameras will alert police when those people drive over the bridge, giving them an opportunity to intervene before its too late.
Two cameras will be installed on both sides of the bridge. In Portsmouth, the cameras will be located on Bristol Ferry Road and Boyds Lane. In Bristol, they’ll be installed on Routes 136 and 114, both of which merge towards the bridge.
St. Pierre hopes these license plate recognition cameras will help save lives, adding that officers respond to a number of crisis calls on the bridge.
Officers have responded to Mount Hope Bridge more than 1,000 times between 2016 and 2020, according to Flock Safety. Of those calls, 62 of them were to assist people in crisis.
Bridging the Gap for Safety and Healing, a suicide prevention advocacy group, has been pushing for the R.I. Bridge and Transport Authority (RIBTA) to install physical barriers along bridges all across the state.
Co-founder Bryan Ganley tells 12 News that every second counts. While the cameras are a start, he believes the physical barriers would be more effective.
“Anything that would aid in [preventing suicides], we would hope it would help. But once again, it comes back to the physical barriers,” Ganley said. “The barriers would give time, the pause that’s needed, for first responders to get there.”
The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has repeatedly argued that the license plate recognition cameras are intrusive and an invasion of privacy for innocent drivers. But St. Pierre said they will solely be used to identify the license plates of people known to be in crisis.
He said both police departments plan on installing the cameras sometime in July.