nbc10 investigators

Use of Paper License Plates is Hindering Philly Police From Solving Crime

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Aaron Ravenell was shot and killed in broad daylight outside a takeout restaurant in Olney in 2021. 

Following his murder, Philadelphia police posted surveillance videos on the department’s YouTube page asking for any information on the killers or killing. The video showed the shooters walking away and then leaving in a gray Ford Fusion with a paper license plate. 

I looked at it over and over and over,” Geneva Hunter, Ravenell’s mom, said. “And I went over and over in my head.”

Hunter didn’t recognize the killers or the car. The case remains unsolved. 

At that time, the paper plate seemed like a unique feature. 

Now, Philadelphia police say they are seeing a trend in the use of paper tags — which can sometimes be legitimate temporary tags — but other times they are fraudulent tags made to look like a temporary tag.

“In the last two years, there's been a major increase in the use of paper tags,” Philadelphia Police Captain Shawn Trush said. 

Philly police don’t track the number of paper tags used in crimes, but the NBC10 Investigators went to homicides scenes, scoured police surveillance videos and went through court documents to determine how often paper tags were being used in crimes in Philly.

They found that several shootings and unsolved homicides had getaway cars with paper tags such as, the U.S. Mint trailer dime heist, April’s road rage murder in South Philly and the Roxborough High School shooting.

Some of the teens arrested in the Roxborough shooting were also charged with a homicide from the day before that had a different car involved but it too had a paper tag. And that same car with the paper tag is believed to have been used in another shooting days earlier that left an 8-year-old girl injured. 

The Philly police department's YouTube page shows suspects driving cars with paper tags in several of the crimes highlighted.

“They don't want their car identified. So they have a tag on there that makes it less noticeable, but it's fraudulent and won't come back to that person,” Thrush said, adding that the paper tags make it more difficult for police to solve the crimes. “It adds another layer of investigation.”

Until earlier this year, Trush oversaw major crimes and the auto squad lot, where vehicles used in crimes are taken for processing. He showed the NBC10 Investigators a number of cars in the lot with paper tags — usually from Delaware. 

“This is a Delaware paper tag here,” he said looking at a van taken by the Narcotics unit, which had a mostly blank paper license plate. “You can see it's not even filled in. It's just paper. It's literally a paper tag."

Trush said the paper tags issue is not just a Philly thing.

“It's all up and down the East Coast, I would say across the country at this time,” he said. 

Texas paper plates, for example, have been linked to crimes across the country. And dealerships in Texas were caught selling fraudulent plates. 

The NBC10 Investigators went to the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles to see why Delaware paper plates seems to be showing up at Philly crime scenes. 

The Delaware DMV’s head of Compliance and Investigations Karen Carson said it’s not her agency’s responsibility to figure out the authenticity of Delaware tags used in crimes. 

“We just don't have the authority there. So that would be up to law enforcement to investigate,” she said. 

But she added it makes sense why we are seeing Delaware tags in our area.

“You're most likely to see Delaware counterfeit Delaware temporary tags outside of Delaware, obviously, because, you know, the folks in Delaware would be able to recognize them more easily," Carson said.

We showed her some Delaware tags seen in our area and she noted some were counterfeit. She said real temporary tags are fully printed by the car dealer of the DMV.

“They're not issued blank and they're not issued without the information on it," Carson said.

In Pennsylvania, having a fraudulent tag can range from a summary offense to a misdemeanor crime.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office couldn’t give us an exact number of misdemeanors charged in relation to fraudulent tags. But they say it’s at least 10 since 2021.  

Ravenell’s mom and stepdad said they want law enforcement to do more about paper tags.

“With fake tags you can do all sorts of stuff and get away with it,” Ravenell’s stepdad George Hunter said.

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