Jason Perlow: License Plate Fugitive

Summary:Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) a technology originally developed in England, is now being deployed to police vehicles in the United States.

So last night, my wife and I made a one hour driving trip from our home in Western Broward County, Florida, to Singer Island, in order to pick up some furniture we found on Craigslist.

To get to Singer Island, which is a upscale community with mostly vacation homes, you have to pass through the town of Riviera Beach, which is part of the city of West Palm Beach.

Riviera Beach is one of the more unsavory areas of Palm Beach County, and it has a fair share of police activity. I was was driving normally, well within the speed limit, when I heard the siren and saw the flashing lights of a police cruiser in my rear view mirror directly behind me.

I was being pulled over.

My wife looked over at me. "Did you go through a light? Were you driving too fast?" I answered no.

I slowed down and turned into a nearby parking lot and stopped the car. Two police vehicles pulled up.

An officer got out of his car and walked up to my driver's seat window. He looked tense, agitated. "License and registration, please." I could see that he had his hand by his pistol. I fumbled for my wallet and my wife handed me the registration which was in the glove compartment.

"The car is newly registered and my Florida driver's license is brand new, I just got it last week. We moved here from New Jersey two weeks ago."

Officer Hardass took my paperwork and went back to his car. His buddy was kibitzing with my wife about the car on the passenger side, boasting about how he bought one just like it recently and got a cop discount.

Hardass came back and looked at me sternly. "Is this your vehicle, Sir?"

What the hell does he mean is this my vehicle? Of course it's my vehicle.

"Yes, it's my car, I bought it in New York and drove it down here and registered it. Can't you see on the paperwork and on your computer that it's my car?"

"The vehicle is coming up as with an unassigned tag. It belongs to a 1990 Mercedes-Benz. You're driving a 2012 Volkswagen Passat."

I smacked myself on the head. "Officer, I must have switched the tags on the two cars when I put the plates on. The Mercedes is at home, an hour from here. I'm sorry about that."

Hardass went back to his car to check his computer again, and came right back. "Well, you do appear to own both cars. However, driving with an unassigned tag is a criminal offense, and if I wanted to, I could arrest you right now and drag you downtown and throw you in jail."

"But you're not gonna do that, right?"

"No, I'm going to let you off with a warning and it's going on your record for driving with an unassigned tag. You're not going to get a ticket or pay a fine. But you'd better take care of this immediately."

Hardass went back to his car. His buddy, officer Kibbitz, who was chatting with my wife, looked over towards me.

"Hey, awesome car dude. Sorry we pulled you over, but we had a homicide this evening and everyone's kind of on edge."

"Well why did you pull me over? Did the vehicle look suspicious?"

"Oh, we don't profile or descriminate. The car scanned you and it threw up an alert for having a mismatched plate."

"What do you mean the car scanned me? It can do it by itself?"

"Yes, it's a new system called Automatic License Plate Recognition. They developed it in England and most states use it in toll plazas, parking lots and stuff like that. We now have them on police cars, as do a few other states."

"Wow... and it can tell the difference between a Volkswagen and a Mercedes?"

"Yup."

Have you had a run-in with the law because of Automatic License Plate Recognition? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Security

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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