License plates expired? Right now might be a good time to get down to the state Department of Motor Vehicles office and pay up — or risk getting pulled over by Officer Seth Rucker of Maryville Public Safety.
Rucker is one of the Maryville officers driving a Dodge Charger patrol car recently equipped with Vigilant Video, a camera/GPS/laptop computer system that automatically reads license plates and notifies police when a plate is expired, has been stolen or belongs to a car linked to criminal activity.
Only one car in the MPS fleet currently has the device, but it is driven during all three shifts. Rucker, who is currently working evenings, has been using part of his time on patrol to cruise parking lots and streets searching for bad plates.
Where it used to take a couple of hours, at least, to manually run all the plates in, say, the Maryville Walmart parking lot, it now takes Rucker "about 10 minutes" to scan the entire lot with an accuracy rate of around 90 percent.
And yes, if you're the person who owns that White Dodge Stratus parked over on the southwest side of town with the expired 2011 tags, you would be very wise to pay close attention to this article. Just sayin' ...
Maryville police have been using Vigilant Video for about two weeks and are still learning the ropes. Rucker said the system is extremely reliable but still has a couple of bugs, such as sometimes mistaking a "D" for an "O" on a dirty plate. But the occasional glitch aside, it's a very impressive gadget.
Driving down Main Street, Rucker's bracket-mounted laptop emits a constant stream of blips as license plate numbers and electronic photographs of front and rear bumpers flit across the screen.
As he passes the aforementioned Stratus, the computer emits a siren wail after identifying the out-of-date plate.
"I just haven't seen him driving yet," Rucker said. "The car has to be moving before we can give him a ticket."
The Vigilant Video plate reader offers a variety of opportunities for improved law enforcement, Rucker said. And it can be programed to flag individual plates being sought out by police in other communities.
Say someone robs a gas station in Omaha, Neb., and a witness gives the plate number to police. Warned through the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System (MULE) database that the suspect is heading this way, Maryville officers can use Vigilant Video to cruise motel and store parking lots, or even just park along the side of the perpetrator's likely escape route.
Rucker said the plate reader also makes police safer when searching for an offender in traffic, since officers can pay more attention to their surroundings without having constantly to read license plates while driving.
Page 2 of 2 - Paid for with a $20,000 grant through the Missouri Office of Homeland Security and the Missouri Police Chiefs Association, Vigilant Video is one of several electronic devices Maryville police have adopted in the half-dozen years Rocker has been on the force.
In addition to carrying a gun and a notebook, police these days are plugged into a non-stop stream of information-gathering and recording devices that include personal computers, car cameras and body cameras.
Though Rucker said the technology makes law enforcement both safer and more efficient, effectively using all those gadgets and processing all that information has added a new dimension to police work.
"It can be a little overwhelming at times," he said.