License plate scanners have been a hotly debated topic due to concerns about an intrusion on privacy, and a recent police stop in Kansas will only add to those fears.
Prairie Village attorney Mark Molner told local media that a law enforcement officer pulled him over and approached with his service weapon out of its holster. Molner was on the way back from a sonogram appointment with his wife.
“As there were tons of cars around me, I was not certain who they were pulling over, but as I had been at the light some time, I did not think that I had had the opportunity to do anything to interest the officers, so when traffic permitted, I pulled forward with it, slowly,” Molner told the Prairie Village Post. “At that time, the cruiser darted in front of me and attempted to pin me by parking diagonally across both lanes of traffic, and the motorcycle took up a place directly behind me.”
While the Prairie Village police officer did not point his gun directly at him, it was drawn.
“I am guessing that he saw the shock and horror on my face and realized that I was unlikely to make a scene,” Molner added.
After several minutes of discussion between the two police officers on the scene of the license plate scanner traffic stop, one law enforcement officer walked back to the driver’s side window and told Molner that that the scanner feed said the attorney was driving in a stolen car. The cruiser-mounted scanner was incorrect. A “misreading” had occurred when the computer deciphered a “7” on Molner license plate as “2,” according to the Prairie Village Post.
The license plate scanner reportedly informed the Prairie Valley police officers that Molner was driving a stolen Oldsmobile, but the Kansas attorney was actually inside a black BMW.
Police representative Captain Wes Lovett said the scanner issued the stolen vehicle warning as the police car was traveling westbound on 75th Street. Molner was driving eastbound. According to Lovett, the police cruiser has to make a turn and then “catch up” to the attorney’s car before stopping the vehicle.
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“Due to rush hour traffic, he [police officer] was unable to compare the two tags prior to activating a traffic stop,” Lovett said. “What he did know is the tag from the license plate reader came back to an Oldsmobile, however, that doesn’t mean the tag isn’t stolen. The BMW could be stolen or it could have simply been a switched tag.”
While Molner is not interested in filing any legal action over the traffic stop, he does question if an officer should unholster his weapon during such an incident.
“I’m armchair quarterbacking the police, which is not a good position to be in. But, before you unholster your gun, you might want to confirm that you’ve got the people you’re looking for,” the Kansas lawyer said. Visually checking the numbers on the plate against the license plate reader alert, he said, would have been advisable and negated the need to draw a gun on an innocent motorist.
The officer has discretion on whether or not to unholster his weapon depending on the severity of the crime. In this case he did not point it at the driver, rather kept it down to his side because he thought the vehicle could possibly be stolen. If he was 100 percent sure it was stolen then he would have conducted a felony car stop which means both officers would have been pointing guns at him while they gave him commands to exit the vehicle.
The Prairie Village Police Department placed the scanner inside the cruiser last year. According to Lovett, false readings do happen “from time to time” but such incidents are “infrequent” and no false arrests have occurred.
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