Dorner License Plate Swap Saga Reveals Safety Blindspot

Christopher Dorner, a suspected cop killer, is believed to have secretly swapped license plates with a local driver to evade police.

Updated 11:55 a.m. Saturday with new link to updated Dorner search story.

Poway became part of the massive search for an elusive murder suspect this week thanks to something many people don't even notice: a stolen license plate.

Christopher Jordan Dorner is suspected of shooting to death an Irvine couple and a Riverside police officer in response to his firing from the Los Angeles Police Department. The military-trained shooter has had law enforcement across state lines chasing after him for days, though none have been able to find him.

[See: Law Enforcement on High Alert as Search for Dorner Continues]

On Thursday, the search came to Poway after Irvine police officers ran a license plate Dorner was believed to be swapping on his Nissan Titan truck, leading them to a local driver.

The Poway Sheriff's Department found the truck parked at the owner's home and impounded it as evidence for fingerprinting and forensic processing, Irvine police Lt. Julia Engen said. The driver is not suspected of being involved with Dorner, and is considered a victim of the petty theft of the license plate, she said.

"We think that the only nexus to the suspect is that he was looking for a car of similar make and model," she said. 

[See: Car Possibly Linked to Cop Killer Suspect Found in Poway]

Many drivers don't notice when one of their license plates has been stolen, particularly the front one, Engen said. This enables thieves to put the stolen plates on their car and drive around for weeks undetected.

Dorner, with his law enforcement background, likely targeted the Poway truck of similar make and model to his to buy himself some time on the run, Engen said.

What happens is as officers drive around running plates, they may not stop a car if the plate comes back to a vehicle of the same make and model and the plate has not been reported stolen, Engen said.

"We would encourage people to always report [license plates] missing," she said.

In this case, the driver had reported the license plate stolen, Engen said.

"The victim reported the plate stolen before we had the accurate plate. The 'similar to' plate plate we were looking for was off by one digit so [we] didn't have the accurate plate until the suspect's vehicle was located," she said by email. 

California is one of the states that requires drivers to have license plates in the front and back. Find out how to get replacements for lost or stolen plates here.

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