« Deputies find crack after crash | Main | Suspicious suspect cleared in child stalking case »

June 23, 2011

How cops read your plates


The technology has been around for a while but now just about every police jurisdiction uses it -- license plate readers that scan numbers and can quickly tell a cop whether the car is stolen, or has backed up tickets.

Police can simply drive along a street and check every car almost instantaneously. Privacy groups worry about police collecting and saving information from people not implicated in crimes -- such as keeping a record of where your car is -- but for law enforcement it's a critical tool.

The Sun's Don Markus provides a behind-the-scenes look at the technology and how it's being used in Maryland, and how state police tried to use it to find a motorcyclist a trooper was chasing moment before he was killed on I-95 when his cruiser collided with a truck. 

From Don's story:


Sgt. Julio Valcarcel wheels his unmarked sport utility vehicle south onto U.S. 1 in Jessup as motorists whiz by in the opposite direction. The Maryland state trooper is not looking to ticket speeders, but rather is on the hunt for stolen cars.

And he doesn't have to consult a "hot sheet" to compare license plate numbers, or even remember the make, model and color of vehicles on the stolen-car list.

Images of license plates pop onto his laptop computer screen as the cars go by. An alarms sounds when the computer finds a stolen plate or car, or even a revoked or suspended registration, information stored in a database updated daily by the FBI and the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

"It's constantly taking pictures, looking for license plates," said Valcarcel, who has spent 21 years as a trooper and is now the technical manager of the license plate reader program. "There might not be a violation at the time we capture that read, but the read might be helpful for investigative purposes down the road."

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:59 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Confronting crime


I think this technology is great when used correctly. The only point that I would have an issue with it is when the government starts assigning location/time information along with where that non-violation plate was scanned then storing that information into a database. Temporary scanning is one thing, but tracking citizens is something the government should not be involved in.

"There might not be a violation at the time we capture that read, but the read might be helpful for investigative purposes down the road."

What the hell is that supposed to mean???

It means that they record and keep in their database all information they collect so that if the store gets robbed after the police scanned all the plates they now have a list of suspects which now involves you if you were at the shopping center!

If the tag scanned is not in violation, then they have no business storing that information. They are infringing on peoples privacy.

I find it amusing reading posts from people constantly whining about their rights. Basically it's pretty simple, people have the idea that they can do anything they want under the guise of freedom. When controls are instituted, out come the whiners. If people obeyed the law, such methods as license scanners, red light cameras, cameras in school zones would not be necessary. It would be more pleasant if people had a more valid reason to whine.

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.

Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.

In the news

Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Breaking News newsletter
When a big news event breaks, we'll e-mail you the basics with links to up-to-date details.
Sign up

Charm City Current
Stay connected