Texas police are voicing concerns over the roughly $200 million fake temporary license plate industry, which has been linked to violent crime and the death of a police officer.
“November 14th, we lost officer Brandon Tsai in the line of duty,” Grand Prairie Police Chief Daniel Scesney, said in testimony to state lawmakers on the issue. “He was involved in a motor vehicle collision with while engaged in the pursuit of an individual that was displaying a fictitious paper license plate.”
Scesney continued, “This is a problem that is plaguing the entire state. Where violent offenders, burglars, car thieves are using the fictitious tags to conceal their identities and facilitate crime.”
The hearing came as the Texas DMV released a redesign of its temporary paper license plates to include a watermark of the state flag, along with data linked to law enforcement databases and other security features that can identify the vehicle’s owner and cannot be digitally replicated.
However, Scesney believes the DMV — whose previous director resigned due to criticism over the issue — can do more to combat the fraudulent plates.
“I think they’re moving in the right direction, but here’s the problem: even with the redesign, there’s nothing to stop you today from getting on your computer and creating a fake tag and printing it from your printer. In fact, I asked my staff to do it today, and it took about 45 minutes. I am definitely in favor of moving away from the paper tag. It is just too easy to be fabricated,” the chief said. “Anybody with a computer and a printer can make a tag.”
Since 2016, crimes linked to vehicles with fake paper tags have more than tripled, according to Crime Stoppers Houston.
“We’ve had a lot of high-profile crimes including murders that have taken place involving paper tags,” Crime Stoppers member Andy Kahan said.
Kaufman County Constable Jason Johnson recently was involved in a pursuit of a vehicle with a fake tag. The suspect was arrested after a three-hour pursuit on charges of drug possession, with fentanyl, ecstasy and marijuana found in the vehicle.
“The fake tags, we are working on that every day,” the constable said. “I mean every time we turn around, there’s a new paper tag out.”
In 2021, DMV officials estimated there to be at least 1.8 million fraudulent plates in Texas printed by auto shops operating illicitly. The department expects the new design to reduce that number significantly.
“There have been some system enhancements to ensure the vehicle is legitimate and that the person is a bona fide employee of the dealership,” DMV Deputy Executive Director Roland Luna said.
In an April investigation regarding the fake tags, a Houston auto shop called “Kasniels” raised eyebrows after DMV records showed that it sold 236,642 buyer tags from July through November 2021.
Law enforcement said it was impossible for a dealership like that to sell more than 2,000 cars per day. Investigators estimate the market street value of those tags to be around $23 million.
Chief Scesney said he is pushing the department to make temporary metal plates that can be distinguished by the naked eye from fake paper plates.
“Our agency is very interested in doing anything we can to help fix the issue. We got a cop who lost his life, so it’s important to us.”