Police have taken note of the increasing cases where criminals use fake licence plates and the issue is a topic of discussion among the senior members of the force, according to Crime Chief Leslie James.
In many cases, witnesses would give the police the licence plate number of a getaway car or it would be caught on a surveillance camera, but these usually turn out to be false once checks are done to trace the registration of the vehicles.
James told Stabroek News that while he would not describe the situation as alarming, he believes that it is one of concern. As a result, he said, the issue is discussed at the various levels of the force, including by divisional commanders.
“Yes we have discussions that deal with vehicles unlawfully having false number plates,” he stated.
James added that ranks on crime and traffic patrols would randomly stop vehicles and ask the drivers for their documents. He said that a check is then done and if it is found that the licence plate number does not match the documents presented, the driver can be detained and the vehicle impounded.
Asked if police would have come across vehicles with fake plates during their random stop and check exercises, he said that while he does not have a number, he is sure that they would have come across a few.
In October last year, police shot and killed three Albouystown men who they said were headed to commit an armed robbery at the K&VC hotel.
The then crime chief Seelall Persaud had told Stabroek News that the youths had been dropped off close to the South Road scene in a vehicle, which had false number plates.
Police had said in a press release that at around 8.30 pm, three men exited a white car bearing registration number PPP 8539, which had stopped on Alexander Street, a few feet away from where they were.
Persaud, when asked, had told this newspaper that checks revealed that the vehicle had “false plates”. To date police have not been able to find the car.
The most recent case where police were confronted with a false licence plate is in the recent armed robbery at the Muneshwar’s Hardware Store, at Good Hope, East Coast Demerara. The robbery, including the getaway car used by the gunmen, was captured by a surveillance camera located on the premises.
However, when asked about the car, James told Stabroek News that investigators were able to ascertain that the licence plate number on the car was fake. He said the police have information on the make and colour of the vehicle and the information is being perused.
Meanwhile, a security source told Stabroek News that this issue is one of serious concern and it ought to be addressed. “No criminal will go and commit a robbery in a car with the genuine plate… so this is something that the police ought to take into consideration and put measures in place to deal with it,” he said.
The source explained that in many instances, the plates can easily be stolen off of vehicles as they are not fitted on properly. “Our licence plates are easily removed. That is how they were designed,” the source said, adding that it is noticeable that more and more sign artists are popping up around the city.
It was noted that while there is nothing wrong with persons plying their trade, in this instance it needs to be regularised to help stop the production of fake licence plates. He said that in the absence of this, what ought to happen is that drivers needing a new licence plate must produce a copy of their registration or any other document which would confirm the plate number.
According to the source, zeroing in on the number of persons producing these plates may be something to consider. He said that a database could be created so that when someone comes with a number, it could be checked to verify it.
A driver, however, expressed the view that sign artists should not be targeted since ensuring the authenticity of plate numbers is not their responsibility. “It is not their duty to check to see whether the number is legitimate,” the driver said, before adding that when you go to the sign artist all you do is give them the number and the plate is made.
He added that the most the sign artist can do is ask the driver to see a copy of his registration so that the number can be verified. Copies of the registration, insurance, fitness and revenue licence are all documents that can be used to verify licence plate numbers, the man stated.
“I don’t think that the police should come down on them… clamping down on them wouldn’t make a difference because people would come up with other ways to get one,” the driver said.
It was pointed out that motorists could make their own plates, since all that is needed is the paint and the stencil.
The man stated too that people can alter their own plates by simply changing one of the letters or numbers—such as by changing a “P” into a “B”.
Some persons also pay drug users to steal plates, which are sometimes not screwed on tightly to a vehicle.
The driver added that instead of focusing on the licence plate number alone, police should try tracking down getaway cars using other clues, such as the make of the vehicle, the colour or any markings that may be printed on the vehicle.