Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Sunday, May 5, 2013
PORT CHARLOTTE — Ryan White has a ‘honey hole’ he likes to frequent because conditions are always perfect for a good catch. On most days he gets a bite even before he has time to get situated, but sometimes he can wait for hours without even a nibble.Despite his good luck, White has yet to bag his monster catch, even though he daydreams about it on a regular basis.’One day I’ll get my stolen car,’ White said. ‘It just hasn’t happened yet; cars don’t get stolen that often in Charlotte County.’
White is a deputy first class with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office -traffic unit. Every day, he fishes for people driving with suspended licenses, expired or stolen tags, and his most sought-after catch — a stolen vehicle. His ‘honey hole’ is located at the intersection of Cochran and Pellam boulevards, where he posts up on the median and waits for someone with an outstanding charge to cross his path.
Using a Veri-Plate system installed on his vehicle, White scans oncoming license plates of vehicles traveling from any direction; the system instantaneously reports on any related criminal activity. It consists of four cameras that can read license plates on approaching vehicles moving at speeds up to 75 mph.
‘The system works the best when there is a high volume of traffic,’ White explains. ‘The conditions at this intersection are the perfect setup.’
After the Veri-Plate camera focuses on a license plate, it wirelessly transmits the letter-number combination, notifying White of any cars that are linked to some other criminal matter, such as an outstanding arrest warrant.
But the system isn’t perfect — the cameras have a hard time with motorcycle tags, people visiting from out of state, and sometimes addresses on mailboxes.
‘I have a mailbox on my street that shows up as a stolen car,’ White joked. ‘When I’m coming home late at night I always get startled when the alarm goes off. It never fails.’
A warning doesn’t necessarily lead to an immediate stop. White has a matter of seconds to verify that the numbers and the driver match the information in a database on a laptop computer inside his patrol car before the vehicle in question disappears down a side street.
On April 26, White pulled over a white pickup that was owned by a man with a suspended license, but when he got up to the window, a woman’s face appeared as the dark-tinted window rolled down in front of him.
It’s these kinds of stops that can cause problems for the system legally, according to David Haenel, chairman for the Florida Bar Traffic Court Rules, a committee designed to monitor and interpret new rules of procedure and changes to existing traffic laws.
‘They have to cut the person loose immediately if it’s not the right driver,’ Haenel said, ‘Otherwise it would be considered an illegal stop.’
Haenel said interpretations of the law can get cloudy. For instance, if an officer approaches the vehicle and smells marijuana, then the deputy would establish a reasonable suspicion and a driver could be charged with a crime, even though he never violated any traffic laws.
But the controversy hasn’t stopped courts across the state from upholding utilization of the Veri-Plate systems when tickets have been called into question. According to Haenel, a traffic attorney out of Sarasota, most legal challenges against the systems have been unsuccessful.
Haenel said law enforcement agencies are pushing to get the Veri-Plate systems to agencies across the state, because the systems make it safer for law enforcement officers making traffic stops and help to diminish the presence of suspended drivers on the roads.
‘The Veri-Plate system has proven to be an invaluable tool, not just with identifying unlicensed drivers to keep our roadways safe, but in identifying criminals and wanted subjects traveling around our county,’ CCSO Sheriff Bill Prummell said, ‘By using technology with our intelligence-led policing, we are able to be a proactive agency to better serve and protect our citizens and visitors.’