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CHEYENNE, Wyo.-- If your license plate is stolen in Wyoming, law enforcement won't be entering it into a national crime database anymore.
And if your license plate was already reported stolen - as required by law - it will no longer show up in the National Crime Information Center, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation officials said Friday.
That's because of what state officials describe as an antiquated license plate system, which requires new plates to be issued every eight years and creates a potential for duplication.
Forrest Bright, director of the DCI, said a letter was sent to NCIC terminal operators throughout the state to purge the information by Saturday.
Bright explained that people traveling across the country in stolen vehicles will periodically stop to switch license plates.
"Another reason plates get stolen in Wyoming, quite frankly, is people who live back east or out west think there's a lot of uniqueness in the bucking horse," Bright said.
Law enforcement agencies in other states can tap the NCIC to determine if a vehicle or its license plates are stolen.
The duplications mean the state is not in compliance with FBI standards for the database.
The FBI operates the NCIC, which also includes information about criminals, missing people and sex offenders.
In Wyoming, there are about 700 stolen license plate reports for the past five years, Bright said.
Duplication could cause the wrong person to be stopped if the NCIC shows the plates have been stolen.
"They could easily be stopped in a felony style manner," said Lt. Mark Munari, spokesman for the Cheyenne Police Department.
It would mean guns drawn and the driver ordered out of the vehicle by law enforcement. Felony stop procedures changed to focus on officer safety after the Newhall Incident in 1970. Four California Highway Patrol troopers were gunned down in Southern California during their attempt to perform a traffic stop on a man reported to have brandished a firearm.
Munari said it means law enforcement will have to work harder to sort out stolen license plate reports.
Police officers will still take a report for stolen license plates and a Vehicle Identification Number will be used for actual stolen vehicles, Munari said.
"It's going to be touch and go through the next year," he said.
In the next year, the Devil's Tower plates will expire and Wyoming drivers will have the new Teton-themed plates,
"The problem would have started back in 1990 when the Legislature passed the staggered registration," said Dave Kingham, spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
License plates expire on a monthly basis and the numbering system in Wyoming is antiquated, Kingham said.
"It's not really a problem we have any control over because the county treasurers issue these plates, and they have considerable latitude in reserving the plates," he said.
Laramie County treasurer Kim Lovett said two vehicles could have the same license plate number as new plates are issued.
If someone reports their license plate stolen, they could have the same number back within the first year of expiration - within the five year period the NCIC holds the report.
Lovett said it would take a change in law to fix the problem.
"I think if we were a bigger state it would be a bigger issue," she said.