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Back to Archives | Back to January 2008 Contents 

Looking Beyond the License Plate

By Richard J. Ashton, Chief of Police (Retired), Frederick, Maryland, and Grant/Technical Management Manager, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Alexandria, Virginia


ll of the efforts that police officers devote to reducing needless highway deaths and serious injuries resulting from traffic crashes and impaired driving bring them into contact with myriad citizens, some of whom use vehicles to commit non–traffic-related criminal acts. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, being a driver during a traffic stop was the most common reason in 2005 for a face-to-face police contact; it accounted for about 40 percent of an estimated 43.5 million police contacts of U.S. residents aged 16 years or older.1 Traffic stops afford alert police officers additional legitimate opportunities to detect crime and apprehend perpetrators. The IACP Highway Safety Committee and the 3M Traffic Safety Systems Division, recognizing the vital role that license plates play in crime detection, have partnered for more than a decade in recognizing police officers who use license plates to solve serious, nontraffic crimes.

Looking Beyond the License Plate Award

The Looking Beyond the License Plate award program substantiates and documents the importance of license plates as a law enforcement tool. It is generally accepted that 70 percent of all serious crime involves a motor vehicle, and law enforcement agencies across the United States acknowledge that license plates are critical crime-fighting tools used to track and identify these offenders.

Since its inception in 1998, the Looking Beyond the License Plate program has attracted well over 2,000 entries from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Canadian provinces. As often happens, many of the license plate observations cited in the entries led directly to the solution of a crime and the apprehension of a suspect, to the discovery of a fugitive wanted on an outstanding warrant, or to the arrest of a previous violator of a traffic or motor vehicle regulation.

Previous recipients of the Looking Beyond the License Plate award include North Carolina State Highway Patrol Trooper John C. Horniak, who was seriously wounded while capturing one of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s 10 most wanted, sought for violating parole in conjunction with a 1994 second-degree murder conviction; Wisconsin State Patrol Trooper Thomas A. Jones, who arrested an armed individual, thought to be suicidal, for strangling his own wife; Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Kelly Roberts, who apprehended a driver with two corpses in his vehicle’s trunk as he was en route to commit a third murder; and Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Charles J. Hanger, who stopped the vehicle Timothy J. McVeigh was driving just 75 minutes after the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

2007 Award Recipient

The 2007 grand prize winner of the Looking Beyond the License Plate award was Sergeant Darron D. Conrad of the Gloucester County, Virginia, Sheriff’s Office. During shift roll call on August 14, 2006, Sergeant Conrad received a be-on-the-lookout (BOLO) notice for a white Nissan Maxima bearing Maryland registration that had been involved in the armed robbery and attempted first-degree murder of a Denny’s restaurant manager in Baltimore County, Maryland.

On August 16, 2006, at 4:26 a.m., Sergeant Conrad observed a vehicle matching the BOLO notice. Sergeant Conrad and other deputies initiated a high-risk felony stop. The suspect vehicle stopped momentarily, only to speed off again, leading the deputies on a 12-mile pursuit at speeds up to 105 miles per hour before it stopped and its two occupants—28-year-old David T. Burton and 20-year-old Sarah L. Higgins—surrendered without incident.

The victim’s blood and the knife with which he had been stabbed and slashed multiple times, along with money stolen during the robbery, were recovered in the vehicle. Burton has been convicted of robbery and attempted murder. Higgins’s trial is pending.

Sergeant Conrad was honored at the Highway Safety Awards Breakfast held during the 114th Annual IACP Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, joining other distinguished police officers who elected, during the discharge of their patrol duties, to use registration irregularities to initiate the traffic stops that led to the discovery of more serious crimes.

Five other police officers were recognized and received honorable mention:

  • Deputy Sheriff Nicholas Lazaris, Pinellas County, Florida, Sheriff’s Department

  • Sergeant Curtis Williams, Plant City, Florida, Police Department

  • Trooper Jeff Kirschner, Maryland State Police

  • Trooper Tony Brock, Washington State Patrol

  • Officer First Class Robert Lockwood, Baltimore County, Maryland, Police Department

Numerous serious crimes, like those highlighted by Looking Beyond the License Plate, are cleared daily by officers doing their best to safeguard those they have chosen to protect. ■

Note:

1U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Police Stop White, Black and Hispanic Drivers at Similar Rates According to the Department of Justice Report,” advance for press release BJS07020, April 29, 2007, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/press/cpp05pr.htm (accessed December 3, 2007).

The IACP National Law Enforcement Challenge is a program that provides a forum to recognize and publicize effective traffic safety programs. With support from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the IACP chooses submissions as winners that exemplify highly effective, replicable programs. These programs contain strategies founded in sound law enforcement policies and those that comply with IACP membership driven recommended practices and are proven to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries. Submissions for the 2007 National Law Enforcement Challenge are due May 5, 2008. To learn more about the National Law Enforcement Challenge visit http://www.theiacp.org/awards/NLEC/NLEC.htm or contact Clarence Bell at 1-800-THE-IACP, extension 215.


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From The Police Chief, vol. 75, no. 1, January 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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