License plate reader helped catch WDBJ shooting suspect, but does Kansas also use them?

TOPEKA (KSNT) — On Wednesday, we learned about how law enforcement agencies were able to quickly track down the gunman who killed two journalists from Virginia on live TV.

One of the factors? A simple device found on a Virginia State Trooper’s car: A license plate reader.

Since it was so effective in tracking down the gunman, we wondered if our local law enforcement agencies are equipped with the same devices.

“We do not employ the license plate readers with our agency or any of our vehicles at this time,” said Phil Blume, Undersheriff at the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office.

So, we checked with the Kansas Highway Patrol.

“No vehicle in the highway patrol has a tag reader at this time,” said Lt. Adam Winter of the Kansas Highway Patrol.

When we stopped by the Topeka Police Department, no one was available to talk on camera, but an employee there confirmed they also don’t use license plate readers.

Lately, it seems most people are only concerned with the fact that law enforcement officers are wearing body cameras. But, after seeing how a license plate reader helped quickly track down a gunman on the loose, the devices might become the new push for law enforcement.

In order to operate these devices, officers enter the license plate number of a suspect’s vehicle into the system. Cameras mounted on the patrol car watch local traffic and when the computer matches the license plate, the officer is alerted.

“State police trooper Pam Neff was on patrol along interstate 66.” said Virginia State Police Sgt. Rick Garletts. “Her license plate reader, or LPR, alerted to a license plate on a Chevrolet Sonic.”

“When Trooper Neff approached the vehicle, she found the suspect suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Garletts said.

He would later die at the hospital, but it begs the questions: “Could he have got away or killed more people without that license plate reader?” and “If they are so effective, why don’t we have them here at home?”

“Obviously, the financial consideration become a matter,” Blume said. “We’ve heard some of the general arguments of the public of the concerns of the invasion of privacy, and intrusion, and people’s rights.”

The agencies we spoke with say they would be willing to consider the automated license plate readers, especially after a situation like this. But, as always it becomes an issue of paying for them.

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