Richard J. Ashton, Chief of Police (Retired), Frederick, Maryland; and Grant/Technical Management Manager, IACP
he license plate remains a vital, cost-effective, and readily identifiable law enforcement tool. Every U.S. state and Canadian province mandates its display, and information concerning one is accessible to police officers in real time. Noncompliance with a jurisdiction’s vehicle registration laws objectively provides probable cause to believe a violation is occurring and has been demonstrated time and again to be a gateway to clearing serious crimes. The basis for choosing this year’s Looking Beyond the License Plate grand prize winner is a typical traffic stop for an expired license plate, which blossomed into the arrest of a methamphetamine distributor wanted by the U.S. Marshals Service, and clearly demonstrates the positive value of looking beyond the license plate during traffic stops.
The 3M Traffic Safety Systems Division has recognized the crucial role that license plates play in crime detection and has partnered with the IACP Highway Safety Committee since 1998 to recognize police officers who use license plates to solve serious, non-traffic crimes. Past grand prize winners have been responsible for the capture of one of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives; the apprehension of one of the U.S. Marshals Service’s 15 Most Wanted Fugitives in Canada; the prevention of a third homicide by an individual transporting two corpses in his vehicle’s trunk; the arrest of two suspects involved in the armed robbery and attempted first-degree murder of a Maryland restaurant manager; the solution via the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department’s license plate reader (LPR) system of six major cases in three months; the prompt arrest of the perpetrator of multiple, vicious abductions in northern Virginia; and the apprehension of Timothy J. McVeigh just 75 minutes after the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The IACP Highway Safety Committee unanimously selected Trooper Eric Randazzo, of the Pennsylvania State Police’s Troop “N”—Swiftwater Station, as the grand prize winner of the 2013 Looking Beyond the License Plate award. On October 7, 2012, at approximately 6:50 p.m., Randazzo observed a motorcycle displaying what he confirmed to be a license plate that had expired in February 2007. Prior to the motorcycle’s stopping, the trooper observed a clear plastic bag fall from the operator’s person, subsequently recovered it, and believed the bag contained methamphetamine. The driver’s license of the operator was determined to be suspended. The motorcyclist was arrested, waived his Miranda rights, and identified the residence at which he had purchased the methamphetamine. Randazzo initiated surveillance of the residence: twice in January 2013 he was able to stop vehicles leaving that residence, to recover methamphetamine on both occasions and a handgun on the first one, and to identify the alleged seller and resident. His investigation developed sufficient probable cause to apply for—and execute—a search and seizure warrant on January 27, 2013, where he seized crack cocaine, methamphetamine, materials used to weigh and package narcotics, and a safe containing $26,000. The resident was apprehended and subsequently was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service on a federal probation violation relating to a possession with intent to deliver charge preferred by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in the 1990s.
Six other police officers on four occasions were recognized by Highway Safety Committee judges to receive honorable mentions for their initiative in solving serious crimes via this fundamental tool, which is divorced from a driver’s race, ethnicity, and sex:
- Trooper Wayne T. Brosam, Iowa State Patrol, initiated a traffic stop on February 17, 2013, for speed and registration violations. The 28-year-old male and 13-year-old female occupants of the vehicle were unable to positively identify themselves and provided different and conflicting information. The trooper reviewed his cruiser’s video/audio system, which yielded a discussion between the two occupants concerning providing false names. The occupants were taken into custody, and Brosam’s further inquiries revealed that the male had a permanent protective order against him in relation to the female and was being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Belcourt, North Dakota, Police Department actually was in the process of making computer entries relative to the female’s being a missing person and the vehicle’s being stolen and the issuing of an Amber Alert on the female.
- Trooper Sean W. Long, Missouri State Highway Patrol, on September 11, 2012, made a traffic stop on a pickup truck displaying only a single passenger car license plate on its front (in a two-plate state). While the driver was wanted for three felonies and two misdemeanors, stolen property in the truck cleared eight burglaries, including one in Kansas.
- Officers Adam M. Schur and Cheryl L. Hurley, Chicago, Illinois, Police Department, on November 27, 2012, stopped a newer model pickup truck that was displaying an apparently-altered Indiana used-dealer license plate. Its female driver was unable to provide either insurance or registration information, and the vehicle identification number (VIN) of the truck was linked to an Indiana owner who advised he was in possession of his truck. The truck was impounded, and a later check of the confidential VIN revealed the truck had been stolen from a tire shop on October 9, 2012, by a person matching the description of the truck’s passenger; that person subsequently was identified by the truck’s owner from a photo array as the person who had stolen keys to the tire shop and subsequently had driven away in the truck. The officers pursued this investigation, arresting the female driver on December 12, 2012, and the male passenger on January 2, 2013.
- Sergeant Robert J. Blain and Officer Jason Robles, Houston, Texas, Police Department’s Homicide Unit, reviewed an apartment complex’s video surveillance on August 15, 2012, and identified the front license plate number of a vehicle entering the complex just prior to the victim’s murder. The vehicle was located at the address at which it was registered, staked out, and stopped after committing several traffic offenses. The driver identified the other four individuals involved in the homicide, and all five now have been charged with capital murder by firearms.
Numerous serious crimes, like those highlighted by the Looking Beyond the License Plate award program, are resolved daily by officers doing their utmost to safeguard those they have chosen to serve professionally. It is hoped that the remarkable efforts described here will inspire chiefs and officers alike to avail themselves of this existing resource in their specialized toolboxes to apprehend violent criminals and reduce crime.
Share with 3M and the IACP Highway Safety Committee those arrests based on license plates, and vie to become the 2014 grand prize winner and to be honored at the 121st Annual IACP Conference in Orlando, Florida, October 25–29, 2014.
Applications for 3M’s 2014 Looking Beyond the License Plate award program must be based on actions occurring between June 1, 2013, and May 31, 2014. ♦
Please cite as:
Richard J. Ashton, "License Plates Yield Felony Arrests," Highway Safety Initiatives, The Police Chief 80 (September 2013): 68–69.