When I originally came out of the Academy, and entered into the FTO program something was made immediately and abundantly clear; Temporary Tags are everywhere and we don’t mess with them. I remember vividly one of my FTOs telling me how we don’t waste time on Temp Tags, and that you can just look at the date displayed on the Tag to tell if it was good. Of course I later learned this not to be the case, but at the time being a new Officer I took the information I was given as gospel. Fast forward 3 months, and I’m cut loose on my own. During my daily patrol activities I begin to recognize a trend; Priority 3 calls for service surrounding abandoned vehicles. The call text would always be a different variation of the same thing: Vehicle has been there for weeks, Complainant believes it’s stolen; Complainant would like to report suspected stolen vehicle, etc. etc.
As I arrived on scene to these calls I began to notice that more often than not they had Temporary Tags on them. I would run the Temporary Tag, and receive either a clear vehicle return, or a return for a different car. I would then run the VIN, and sure enough the cars would be stolen. After about 6 calls I began to think that there has to be something here we are missing. This stolen vehicle at some point had been driven around the city under the noses of our Department. I needed to understand how they were doing it, and why we weren’t doing anything about it.
The answer for both turned out to be simpler than I thought. People, I found, could simply go online and print off their own version of a Texas Temporary plate, and we as a Department weren’t doing anything because no one knew the minutiae of Temporary Tags. So, I had my answers; then I thought what could I do about this? Is this even a crime? Is it even a real problem outside of my localized district of patrol? The answers to those proved to be a much longer process spanning 3 months of research. It involved combing Google, then reading Texas Transportation Code, Texas Penal Code, then linking what I found there to applicable case laws.
As a result I found multiple charges in both Transportation and Penal code to enforce the falsifying of Texas Temporary Tags. But I still had a problem, I didn’t know what an actual legitimate Temporary Tag was supposed to look like, and what information I should receive from one when I ran it through TCIC /NCIC. To be honest I didn’t even know how many different variations of Texas Temporary Tags there were, or what their purposes were.
So, I went to the source and forged a relationship with the TxDMV Vehicle Titles and Registration Services Division. The Division responsible for creating, implementing and issuing Texas Temporary Tags. I asked them for documentation, pictures, and uses of all of the Texas Temporary tags and I learned. I then took my knowledge to the streets, and began to enforce the applicable laws related to Temporary Tags.
I will never forget my first arrest, everyone was like “You arrested them for what? A fake Temporary Tag? I didn’t even know you could arrest for that!” I heard variations of these statements for months, and faced push back more often than not with Officers and Judges a like. People weren’t comfortable with things they hadn’t seen before. Through those experiences I realized just how many Peace Officers in Texas didn’t know about Temp Tags. I looked back on all of the time and resources I had to use and compile to get to where I was, and decided to put it all into an easy to access resource for Officers all across Texas to use.
I truly believe Temporary Tag enforcement is one of the most under policed areas of enforcement in Texas today. Many Officers when first presented with the idea are reluctant and apprehensive, because “it’s just a paper tag”. Once they find out that there are applicable charges up to a second-degree felony, they want to hear more. Texas Temporary Tags have the ability to help any unit whose daily routine is do deal with subjects and suspects in vehicles. There are numerous P.C stops available to Officers just off of improperly displayed Tags.
Hence the book “Temporary Tags: A Texas Peace Officer’s Guide”. In it I cover the various types of Temporary Tags and their uses, along with how each tag looks, and the applicable charges for Peace Officer enforcement. The book also includes interview tips, and P.C Affidavit examples for Officers to effectively affect arrests.
My hope is that Officers take the time to familiarize themselves with the information and feel confident going out and enforcing this overlooked area in traffic enforcement.