License plate readers used to find journalist killer also used in WNY

LEWISTON, N.Y. (WIVB)- In Virginia it worked perfectly. Once police knew they were looking for Vester Flanagan for the shooting deaths of two journalists on Wednesday, Virginia State Police plugged his license plate number into license plate readers on some of their patrol cars.

“As soon as it was entered it came up with a positive hit that the vehicle just passed me less than three minutes earlier,” said Virgina State Trooper Pamela Neff. “I let my dispatch know that the vehicle had passed me and I attempted to catch up with the vehicle, which was traveling eastbound on 66.”

State Police tried to stop him, he refused and a few minutes later he crashed his car and shot himself.

NY State Police have the same technology on some cars, and gave News 4 a demonstration Thursday in Lewiston. You may have seen the cars with license plate readers attached to the trunk facing off to the sides so that as these cars ride down the highway, they are automatically reading the license plates of every car they pass.

“This is a great tool for us,” said NY State Trooper Jim O’ Callaghan. “If it was a suspended plate, an alarm would go off on here saying registration suspended or revoked, and at that point in time I would have to make sure the plate that was read is the correct plate.”

It takes an instant photo, but it’s not perfect, sometimes it reads addresses on mailboxes as if they were license plates, but it is so sensitive that even some plates that are hard to read with the eye can be correctly scanned passing by at fifty miles per hour.

“It is a great tool for law enforcement, it’s a great tool for the community. Let’s say your child is abducted because of an Amber Alert, well guess what, we can punch that plate into the suspected vehicle and look for that child.”

He stresses that police have to have a reason to start a search for a specific plate number. Not every trooper’s car has it.

“Someday I would hope that every car has these plate readers because I think they’re important for everybody,” he said.

Several local police departments are using license plate readers.

NY State Police cannot divulge how long the information is kept or who gets to see it.

“What I want to know is what are they doing about the 99 percent of us who aren’t criminals, what are they doing with that data. Where is it stored? How long is it stored?” questioned civil rights attorney Peter Reese. “Are they combining it in a Countywide, a statewide, a nationwide data base? Are they keeping it for years? I do know an individual who has successfully FOILed his own license plate locations, but quite frankly, that wouldn’t have been my approach. I would’ve asked for the entire data base.”

Local attorney Dan Ward has been trying to find out for months what Erie County’s policy is toward handling the license plate reader data base and continues to be told by the County Attorney’s office that a policy is still being developed. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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