what do cops see when they run your plates

What Do Cops See When They Run Your Plates?

What comes to your mind when the cops ask you to pull over? Generally, you might think about traffic light violations, overspeeding, or other moving violations. But little did you know that cops can pull you over even if you haven’t done any of these things.

If it isn’t any moving violation and you haven’t committed a crime, then why would cops pull you over? Generally, law enforcement agencies in all states can run your license plates, and if they find any suspicious data against that plate, they can pull you over.

The important thing to ask here is, what do cops see when they run your plates? What type of information can they access? Why would they run your plates? How do they do it without you knowing it? Or are they even legally allowed to do that? Here are the answers to all your questions.

How Do Cops Run Your Plates?

First things first, can the cops run your plates without your knowledge? Yes, the cops can legally run your vehicle plates whenever they want to or have to. The next question is, how do they do that?

Thanks to the technology, law enforcement agencies use ALPRs (automated license plate readers) in combination with high-speed cameras and software. High-speed cameras capture the images of the license plates, and then the software converts them into readable data, which is then compared with other databases.

Cops either install or mount cameras on vehicles, traffic lights, and road signs or place them on the sides of bridges. The ALPR also collects the date, time, and geolocation of the driver at that particular time.

Reasons Why Police Can Run Your License Plates?

Legally, the cops don’t need any particular reason to run the plates. It is important to note that there is no privacy on the vehicle’s license plates, so the cops don’t have to justify why they ran the plates. Still, here are some common reasons that law enforcement may run the plates.

1-     To Check the Vehicle’s Registration

One common reason why police may scan your plates in the database is to see if your vehicle is registered or not. You might be thinking do the cops do it for every vehicle?

Well, it is physically impossible, but if the police see there is no registration sticker on your vehicle, they may consider the registration revoked, invalid, or expired.

In these circumstances, the cops will most likely run the plates to make the confirmation. If your vehicle is still registered, they may not bother you. If it is expired or revoked, they will pull you over, and you may get a ticket for driving with suspended or expired registration.

2-     Finding Cars Involved In Crimes

The cops may also run the plates if the vehicle is suspected of being involved in a crime. This usually happens if the crime witnesses or victims are able to identify the vehicle. The police will immediately run the plate plates to determine if they match a reported crime in the area. If the police believe they have enough information to consider that the vehicle is involved in the crime, they may ask to pull over.

3-     Checking for Stolen plates or Cars

The law says that the license plate must be displayed on the vehicle against which it is registered. You cannot move a plate from one vehicle to another vehicle without changing the registration from the concerned authorities.

This practice is very handy in hit-and-run cases or when the victims can only see the license plate at the crime scene. If the criminal puts the number plate on another vehicle to cover up or conceal the vehicle’s involvement in the crime, it will lead to theft charges. Thus, the cops can run the license plates in the scenario mentioned above. The police do the same for stolen cars. They may run the plates of a vehicle if it matches the description of reported stolen cars and ask the driver to pull over.

See Also: Does CPS Come on Weekends?

What Do Cops See When They Run Your Plates?

Right, now that you know why the cops can run your plates and how they do it, here is the answer to what do cops see when they run your plates.

1-     Vehicle Information

The set of information that cops get is complete data on the vehicle. It may include;

  • The year in which your vehicle was manufactured
  • VIN or Vehicle Identification Number
  • Vehicle’s license expiration date
  • The name of the person against whom the vehicle is currently registered
  • Any suspensions placed on the vehicle

2-     Driver’s Information

In most cases, the vehicle is registered against the person driving it. When cops run the plates and get the name of the registrant, they can also run a secondary search to extract the information related to the driver’s license. The police can find the social security number, date of birth, and address of the registrant.

The database also provides detailed descriptive information about the registrant that may include the height and eye color to determine whether the driver is also the registrant or not.

3-     Criminal History

Apart from the above-mentioned information, the search will also pull up the previous driving record of the registrant, criminal history, or any outstanding arrest warrant against the registrant.

Moreover, in some states and cities, the cops or law enforcement agencies can also access local and national records to see if there are any arrest warrants on the registrant in other states as well. It is safe to say that a person on the run can be arrested if pulled over by the cops after they run their plates.


The police are legally allowed to run your plates without you knowing about it. Here is what cops see when they run your plates: vehicle information, driver’s information, and the criminal history of the driver.

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