We’ve talked about a few ways that police use technology to stop vehicles. License plate readers. I think we should link to it when it is. GPS technology. What about computers themselves? Are they used to make traffic stops?
You may have noticed that some police cars seem equipped with computers. For some local law enforcement vehicles, the equipment is standard. These units are officially known as mobile data terminals. And, they could well contribute to the reason you were pulled over.
Mobile Data Terminals and Traffic Stops
We’ve explained that license plate readers send out automatic alerts to police officers. There’s no need to input information. Not all patrol officers have access to this technology. Many use mobile data terminals to run license plates.
In the past, patrol officers would call police headquarters and ask central dispatch to run license plates for them. In communities that do not use mobile data terminals, this is still common procedure.
Let’s go over the technology of these special computerized units.What kinds of information does the patrol car’s computer pick up when it runs your plate? Here’s the basics:
- Identity of the vehicle’s owner
- Expiration date of the vehicle registration and other information about it
- Outstanding warrants for the owner of the car (not necessarily the driver)
- Stolen vehicles
- Suspicion that the vehicle operator is either on the revoked or suspended list (based on the assumption that the car owner is behind the wheel)
Obviously if a police officer runs a license plate, he or she has the advantage of preliminary data. Does this mean that license plates can be run indiscriminately? Quite the contrary.
A 2002 New Jersey Supreme court decision ruled that the police could not just run an individual’s license plate because the driver was of a certain race or ethnicity. That would constitute discriminatory profiling. Is there a possibility that the police ran your plate for a similar reason? This may be a defense to an arrest for certain offenses.
We’ve previously supplied you with information regarding the constitutionality of traffic stops. The courts have discussed this as it applies to the random use of mobile data terminals. In fact, State v. Donis considers the causal use of mobile data terminals. In pertinent part, it states “an investigatory stop is valid only if the officer has a `particularized suspicion’ based upon an objective observation that the person stopped has been or is about to engage in criminal wrongdoing.”