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What Your Car’s Vinyl Family Graphics Tells Criminals

We’ve all seen the dad, mom, son, daughter & family pet vinyl graphics glued on to the rear windows of vehicles.  (One can select the graphics that accurately reflect his family’s composition.) My personal favorite is the one depicting the father holding a briefcase, an empty space next to him, his son’s outline followed by that of the daughter, the baby and then the family dog.  In the area above the missing wife’s space is the message, “Position available”.  Very cute, seemingly innocuous and yet, by most of us in the law, legal and law enforcement fields, viewed with concern.

“In order to defeat bad guys, you have to think like one.”  – Col. Timothy B. Mills, one of my very first mentors in the criminal investigation field.

If I’m a bad guy and I am casing a neighborhood, I am more likely to break into a home with young children- especially a baby.   Parents are extremely vulnerable when confronted with their children’s safety or very lives.  As a bad guy, whether it’s burglary or kidnapping that I’m about to commit, I will use every intimidation method I know.  Threatening the life of an infant or young child will, more likely than not, force the adult victims into compliance.

So while family graphics are pretty on a Prius, cool on a Camry and hopeful (see above re: wife advertising!) on a Honda, they’re also dangerous involving derelicts.

Get a Mt. Rushmore bumper sticker if you must but do not announce to the world the composition of your household.  While the majority of people are good, all you need is one bad element to destroy the safety of your home and family environment.

Be proactive and more reluctant to share your family information with strangers at large.

BNI Operatives:  Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

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GPS Tracking; Legal?

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Recently a judge in New Jersey ruled that use of a GPS device to track a cheating spouse is not an invasion of privacy.  The premise for the ruling is that both parties shared the family vehicle and therefore, either could place the monitoring device on said vehicle. In an attempt to clarify the states’ position on GPS tracking, we held an informal study amongst our peers and researched existing legislation (including that also connected to wiretapping and privacy laws).

As best we can ascertain, there appears to be no definitive list of  state by state rulings on GPS devices and their placement on personal vehicles. Many states require the consent of the vehicle’s registered owner. Although the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that law enforcement agencies’ use of a GPS monitoring device constitutes an “illegal search” and that the potential surveillance subject is therefore protected against this type of monitoring under the Fourth Amendment, that clarity of use as of GPS tracking has not yet been legally defined for private sector use.

According to our knowledgeable friends at Brick House Security (NYC), it is  generally considered to be fair and legal usage of a GPS tracking device if:

  • You or your company own the vehicle.
  • You or your company do not own the vehicle, but you place the GPS device on the outside of the car — (e.g., under the rear bumper).
  • The vehicle is visible to the public — (e.g., in a parking lot or on a public street).
  • You could obtain the same information by physically trailing the vehicle.
  • The vehicle is not situated on someone else’s private property.

It’s generally illegal to use a GPS tracking device if:

  • You need to break into the vehicle to situate the device.
  • You need to physically hardwire the device inside the vehicle.
  • The vehicle is in a place where its owner has a reasonable expectation of privacy — in a private garage.

My suggestion for those wishing to engage in GPS surveillance of a subject, is to contact local police in the desired area of surveillance and ask within.

For additional GPS tracking related information, please read one of our  earlier articles on the subject, below linked.

Our Operatives: Street smart: info savvy.

As always, stay safe.

Your Tattletale License Plates

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The Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) scanning systems are one of the newest law enforcement technologies. The system consists of cameras mounted on police cars, hooked up to a computer inside the vehicle.  License plates images are scanned and matched to a real-time centralized database. This database flags vehicles that have been identified as

  • Stolen Vehicles
  • Wanted for an Amber Alert
  • Expired Registration
  • Expired Insurance
  • Wanted as “Persons of Interest” for any investigation
  • Suspended Driver’s License
  • Outstanding Criminal Warrant
  • Outstanding Municipal Taxes or other Fines and Fees
  • Are Wanted for any other government purpose

The system is matched to the vehicle’s owner via a DMV database. So, you can just be driving along and find yourself pulled over by the police, not having committed any traffic violation.

How Many License Tags Can Be Scanned?

Short answer: thousands of tags per hour.  One police car parked on the side of a road can scan just about every car in sight, including one driving in the opposite direction at 70 miles an hour.  (No, the answer is not to drive 80 mph +.)

What Happens To The Scanned Images?

Every image is time, date and location saved.  Permanently.  So now reports of your driving locations (whether you were stopped or not) have become records and collected into various databases: those of state and local law enforcement, DMVs and the FBI‘s National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

The Problem, You Ask?

As more systems go online and interconnect across local, state and federal jurisdictions,  police can easily identify the touch points of any scanned tag’s vehicle location.

You can easily imagine the knock on your door if you (probably unknowingly… I allot the benefit of the doubt), stopped in front of  a known drug dealing location, parked by a wanted person’s vehicle or passed a toll directly behind a person suspected of a crime.  BTW, how many times have you attended political events?  Call the cops, they’ll let you know.

The truth is that the use this placement data can be used as circumstantial evidence against you and we’ll soon find many innocent people in court, defending their drive down Main Street.

Aren’t These License Tag Scanners Violating My Rights??

No.  According to the law, you have no expectation of privacy while out in public.  This has already been through the courts which have upheld that police officers are allowed to randomly run license tags as they pass by.

In the case of United States of America, Plaintiff-appellee, v. Charles N. Matthews, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held that a “license plate was in plain view on the outside of the car” and hence, is “subject to seizure” because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

In the case of United States of America, Plaintiff v. Curtis Ellison, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held:

Thus, so long as the officer had a right to be in a position to observe the defendant’s license plate, any such observation and corresponding use of the information on the plate does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

These new ALRP scanning systems simply allow the scanning to be more comprehensive in the number of tags scanned and permanent.

Bottom line.

Someone should be asking if any restrictions exist on the use of this data to check up on ordinary Joes and Janes, going about their regular business.

BNI Operatives: Street smart; info savvy. 

As always, stay safe.

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