Ask-a-Cop: License Plate Readers

“Can the police tell us a bit more about how the new license plate reader is being used?

What data does a license plate scanner collect? How many license plate scans have been done since the Brattleboro Police purchased the scanner? How many of those were “hits” associated with crimes or wrongdoings?

Are these records stored? For how long?”


Our license plate reader has been installed, but is not yet being used.  There were recently some changes in the law regarding their use and BPD officers have not been trained in those changes.

The scanner “reads” every license plate that comes into the scanning area, generally each side of the police vehicle.  It checks the plate against a database of cars in which law enforcement may have an interest.  This includes expired license plates, license plates where the owner has an expired or suspended license, or license plates where the owner has a warrant for their arrest.  The list includes stolen cars, Amber Alert information, and similar data.  This list is updated twice a day by the state.

Local agencies like BPD have the ability to add license plates to this list.  These might include plates whose owners owe outstanding municipal ticket fines or vehicles on the parking boot list.

If there is a “hit” associated with one of these scans the officer is notified audibly and visually on the computer mounted in the car.  However, this does not authorize the officer to take any enforcement action.  The officer must investigate the “hit.”  This may involve a number of steps depending on what kind of “hit” it was.  The officer might run the plate through the DMV or take steps to determine if the registered owner of the vehicle is the person who is driving. 

Based on this investigation the officer might take action (like stopping the car) if he or she has developed the appropriate reasonable suspicion or probable cause.  The standards of reasonable suspicion and probable cause are well established legal standards and have not changed with the advent of LPRs.

The LPR scans and records every license plate that comes into the scanning area and records the date, time, and GPS coordinates of the police vehicle at the time of the scan.  This information is kept for five days.

If you have a question for the Brattleboro Police Department’s Ask-a-Cop, please send it to and put “Ask-a-Cop” in the subject line.

Comments | 2

  • License plate covers

    They now sell plastic license plate covers to protect the plates and BTW to interfere with the workings of LPRs.
    Are these legal?
    Do they work?

  • This is a very deep and broad

    This is a very deep and broad power. For now, will the Police Dept provide the full list of what will allow a stop to be made. That the list “includes” stolen cars et al implies that the list is longer. Second, please explain “Amber Alert” information. What is or constitutes “similar data?”
    Thank you. Looking forward to your reply.

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