MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - An ABC 24 reporter and an entire Memphis apartment complex is flagged as possible sex offenders, all because of one North Carolina man.
Tennessee residents can trace sex offenders through the TBI website; just put in an address and see if there are any close by. However, Memphis police know if there are any close by simply by scanning license plates. But if you live in an apartment complex, or if you share the same street name as an offender, police officers could think you're an offender too.
ABC 24's Joy Lambert was shocked when she found out her car registration was flagged as a possible sex offender. The License Plate Reader system manager for the Memphis Police Department, John Harvey, said the sex offender is a man named Carlton Wood from North Carolina. He's the reason Lambert, and her entire apartment complex, are red flagged. Harvey said, "It has to do with the possibility that a sex offender lives in a certain address or within an address. Since you live in apartments, the program is designed to look for matches on the street number and street name." Wood's last reported address has the same street name and numbers as Lambert's complex.
That's how all the matches come up with MPD's license plate reader and matches happen all the time. Warrants, felons, even gang members pop up the same way, helping police to identify a threat or a criminal. But innocent people, if they have similar addresses, are flagged as well.
If an officer saw the "possible sex offender" flag, Harvey said, "Typically they wouldn't do anything if you were just out in the public, unless you were in a school zone, or near a park or something where sex offenders are not supposed to be. Then if they were to do something they would click on the alert and it would tell them who that sex offender is." He told Lambert, "In your case that sex offender was a male; they wouldn't do anything most likely." However, if a male from the same complex was caught near a school, "They would probably stop and check them," Harvey said.
MPD said license plate readers work the way they want them too, which means if your address is flagged it will stay that way. "There's really nothing you can do," Harvey said, "because the officers need to know there's a possible sex offender there."
MPD stresses to its officers, when a flag comes up they are just possibilities - they still have to go through police protocol to determine a threat or violation. Police have made thousands of arrests because of the license plate readers. Even though it makes flagged citizens uncomfortable, MPD said the system is keeping Memphis safer.