Family Terrorized Due to Switched License Plate

MISSION HILLS — A case of mistaken identity led to a family of five, headed on a camping trip, being frisked on the 405 Freeway and placed in handcuffs.

Los Angeles Police Department officials came across the family’s white van around 5:45 a.m. Friday, which came back as a stolen vehicle.

. . .One-by-one, family members got out of the car with their hands in the air and were instructed to lie face down in the middle of the freeway.

I’m counting at least 6 cop cars, officers with weapons drawn covering the family members who are spread eagle on the highway like you would expect to see psycho killers treated. What prompted the police to terrorize the vacationing family in this manner? According to the news report;

It turns out, the van’s license plate had been replaced with a stolen vehicle license plate, police told KTLA. The family was not aware of the switch.,0,1251485.story

May be you are wondering (maybe) why the plate was run in the first place. No mention of speeding, broken tail lights or any other irregularities that would give the police a reason to check this vehicle out. Ever heard of a dragnet?

Automatic License Plate Readers are all the rage these days. These devices, mounted on patrol cars, automatically scan license plates as drives past vehicles and can match them with any “hotlist” database that the onboard computer is loaded with.

WIRED reports;

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! I’m riding in the backseat of an LAPD cruiser, and it sounds like the inside of a giant slot machine. As officer Christine Labriola speeds down the side streets of LA’s notorious Rampart district, a Dell laptop mounted on the Crown Victoria’s dashboard chimes intermittently. A picture of each car we pass is displayed on the screen until the next car appears.

We’re hunting for stolen vehicles using the LAPD’s new tech toy: a digital license plate reader. The $20,000 system consists of two sets of cameras mounted on the squad car’s roof, two more pointing out the rear window, a processing system in the trunk, and the Dell on the dash. Each Ding! means the LPR has processed a plate, checking it against the department’s hot list of 123,000 stolen autos and outstanding warrants.

When a plate is scanned and makes a match for a stolen vehicle it sounds an alarm to alert the officer. There was an incident not long ago in the UK where the use of ALPR led to the death of a teenage girl. This particular officer, responding in Pavlovian fashion, proceeded to give chase to the vehicle indicated by ALPR as stolen. In his haste to apprehend the driver, the officer using neither lights nor sirens on, hit the young lady and killed her. This incident took place in a residential area and the officer was traveling at an extremely high rate of speed. It turned out that the ALPR had sounded a false alarm, the tag was completely legit.

Anytime the public engages with law enforcement, there is a heightened risk of injury or death. The family in this incident got lucky but what if one of the teenagers had decided to get lippy or the father had reached for his wallet at the wrong moment? Such a stop could have easily ended in a tragedy for these people.

Besides the fact that such dragnet techniques undermine presumption of innocence by treating drivers as suspect until proven otherwise, this kind of policing exposes us to the perils inherent in interacting with our heavily armed police force unnecessarily. This is not the first nor will it be the last of stories like this.


5 responses to “Family Terrorized Due to Switched License Plate

  1. It seems the police need to learn that lesson, presumed innocent. A man is weaving on the road and the police stop him presuming he is a DWI, turns out after all the hooplah and 5 cop cars and abusing the suspect that the man is a Diabetic, yes these things these cops need to learn and learn ASAP.

  2. The stories of abusive cops are to many to mention. Why do they police themselves? The Military is under civilian control, why not the police? Do ya remember the one here in Oklahoma where a black lady and kids were treated the same way because the tag on her mini-van had the same numbers as a reported stolen Canadian motorcycle?

  3. You have to wonder if there are privacy issues that should be addressed here. It seems innocent people are victims for no apparent reason other than running random plates. In the past the cops needed a reason to run your plates.

  4. I am currently fighting a case in Whittier Court in Los Angeles County California because after my vehicle had been parked on a public street I was leaving work and was confronted with multiple deputies as they surrounded me handcuffed me put me in the back of a cop car and proceeded to tear through my car searching it. They then informed me that the plate on the car was “not” mine and was in fact stolen. Although the vehicle was mine and I hadn’t noticed the plate being switched I was still arrested and charged with felony posession of stolen property. I was in jail for 10 days til my wife bailed me out. I had thought the court would dismiss the case because it is obvious I would not put a stolen plate on my own legally owned vehicle however. The DA is pushing to have me locked up because some jackass switched my plate. I have no idea how to fight this. Any advice?

  5. This is not the first I have heard of someone being terrorized due to switched plates in the LA area. The use of ALPR (Automatic License Plate Reader) is driving plate switching. (License Plate Recognition )
    I would contact a civil rights organization in your area or a good lawyer if you can afford it.

    Wishing you luck.

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