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Published: Monday, 12/9/2002

ID readers save time, add safety for officers

BY CHRISTINA HALL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

With a swipe, it'll be a snap for Toledo police to scan your life.

That's thanks to new driver's license and state identification card readers the department started to install in its marked police vehicles last week.

The concept is simple.

When officers ask for your license or ID card, they'll swipe it through the reader, which is connected to their mobile computers, and hit the enter key. Through the coded magnetic strip on the back of the license or card, they'll be able to obtain information about you, such as your record and whether you have warrants.

The readers will reduce the time officers spend typing in the information on your license or ID card, detect fake IDs, and provide them more safety.

“If something bad happens, we'll have a record of the person the officer was in contact with,” said Sgt. Richard Murphy, whose vehicle received the first reader.

The sergeant used the reader about five times Wednesday, the first day he had it. Since then, the device has been installed in about a third of the department's 148 marked vehicles that have the mobile computers, said Lt. Mel Stachura, the department's technical services supervisor.

Each reader, including the necessary software, hardware, and installation, costs about $380. The department bought 200 devices with money from a $134,000 federal Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grant the department was awarded two years ago.

The idea began when police and Toledo Public Schools officials talked about ways to combat student problems, such as truancy, Lieutenant Stachura said.

For example, if truant juveniles were stopped by police, officers might have a hard time learning who they are and what school they attend. The problem is compounded if the juveniles lie.

To deal with such situations, the district plans to add a magnetic strip to the back of its school IDs. It will contain data about the card holder, such as emergency phone numbers and information about the student's attendance, parents, and schedule.

Then if officers stop a truant juvenile, they can swipe the student's school ID card and learn his or her identity and what school they attend among other things.

But Police Chief Mike Navarre said the readers are part of a larger picture.

“The ultimate goal is to go to a paperless reporting system. The information [from the IDs] would be automatically inserted into a report,” he said.

Lieutenant Stachura said the department is the first in the area to use such devices.

The Ohio Highway Patrol doesn't have readers because it doesn't have mobile computers in its vehicles, spokesman Lt. Gary Lewis said.

The concept can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how it's used, said Evan Hendricks, editor and publisher of Privacy Times, a biweekly newsletter in Washington that reports on privacy and freedom of information law.

He said the public needs to know how the device works, and officials need to establish policies on its use.

“This can be a tool for discrimination and harassment,” he said. “But in an emergency, it can be a good thing, such as finding out people's identities.”



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