Scanners target stolen cars



The devices are checking vehicles entering Ohio, not leaving it.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Welcome to the Ohio Turnpike, you there at the wheel of the stolen Ford Taurus. Pull over, you're under arrest.
As part of a $61,000 federal grant, license plate scanners have been mounted at a Westgate toll booth on the Indiana line (Gate 2) and at an Eastgate toll booth on the Pennsylvania line (Gate 239). Mobile scanners are also mounted on two Ohio State Highway Patrol cruisers -- one at Westgate and one at Eastgate.
Scanners target vehicles entering the state, not leaving it.
The grant supports a four-month test project of the equipment that uses the same technology found at supermarket checkouts, where scanners read product bar codes. If the patrol likes the results, it will seek to continue to use the technology, said Col. Paul McClellan, OSHP superintendent in Columbus.
Thieves frequent turnpike
The Ohio Turnpike is frequently used by out-of-state thieves transporting stolen vehicles, he said. Last year, troopers captured more than 500 car thieves without scanners.
Once a driver exits the toll booth after picking up his ticket, the digital scanner, mounted atop the booth, will read the license plate number. The scanner issues an alert to the OSHP dispatch center if the plate comes back as belonging to a vehicle entered as stolen in the National Crime Information Center database.
Wanted on warrants
The system can also flag men and women wanted on warrants if their car's license plate number has been entered along with the warrant information in NCIC, said Sgt. Randy Skaggs at the OSHP Hiram post. If the license plate itself has been stolen from another car, that too will register if the information has been fed into NCIC, he said.
NCIC has some 350,000 stolen vehicles in its database, Skaggs said. The information, culled from law enforcement agencies nationwide, is current; you won't find a car reported stolen 20 years ago, he said.
Last Friday, a 2001 Ford Taurus stolen out of Ashtabula County cruised through the Eastgate toll booth, driven by Tonia Williamson of Virginia, Skaggs said. The scanner read the license plate as stolen and electronically transmitted an image of the plate to the dispatch center computer in Berea.
The dispatcher, after confirming with NCIC that the Taurus was indeed stolen, notified the trooper on duty, who pulled the car over and arrested the driver on a charge of receiving stolen property, Skaggs said.
"It's an extra tool to combat auto theft and apprehend violators," Skaggs said. "It's widely used in Italy, [installed] in 3,000 police vehicles."
Unlike Italy, which keeps for a month a record of all plates scanned, Ohio will not keep a database of all license plates scanned, Skaggs said. In fact, if the plate doesn't appear in NCIC, the scanner won't register any information, he said.
"There's no record anywhere unless it's a valid hit," Skaggs said. "Some say it's 'Big brother' but it's nothing more than a trooper calling in every plate that he passes -- it just does it quicker."
Scanners mounted on the light-bar of a cruiser register results on the trooper's laptop, Skaggs said. The silver-colored device is about 10 inches round with two lenses.
The trooper can scan cars he passes, whether they're on the road or parked in rest areas or services plazas.
meade@vindy.com

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