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Police Say License Plate Scanners Could Have Saved Lives In The D.C. Beltway Attacks

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Alex DeMetrick 370x278 Alex DeMetrick
Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Ten years ago, Maryland and much of the mid-Atlantic were terrorized by the sniper murder spree. A lot has changed since then, including the way they might have been caught.

Alex DeMetrick reports current technology could have saved lives.

Maybe you’ve seen the cop cars with the boxes on back. Maybe the combination laser, camera and computer landed you a ticket, or worse, arrest.

“It provides information such as stolen cars, wanted persons. Let’s you know if the driver is possibly suspended,” Officer Patrick Robinson of the Montgomery County Police Department said.

And it does it all by reading license plates.

“I get an audible alarm and it also goes up red and let’s me know by keying in on this– something’s happening,” Robinson said.

Just the tool police didn’t have in 2002, when 10 people were murdered in the sniper shooting spree from Maryland south. Could the plate reader have helped catch John Muhammed and Lee Boyd Malvo earlier, and saved lives?

“Absolutely,” said Capt. Paul Starks of the Montgomery County Police Department.

Because the killer’s car crossed paths with police at murder scenes, but didn’t fit descriptions of a suspect vehicle, the plate reader would have remembered.

“How many hits, or how many times has the same tag come into contact with law enforcement? That would have given us a huge clue,” Starks said.

During the sniper spree, plate readers would not only seen and remembered, the computer would also look for patterns.

“And it will double check any reads prior to that day to see if I encountered that vehicle at all during the day,” Robinson said.

It’s technology common today, but too late for the past.

Montgomery County Police currently have 22 vehicles equipped with plate readers. Each is capable of processing 10,000 tags during an eight-hour shift.

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