A South St. Paul car dealer used Minneapolis license plate tracking data to find and repossess a car in South Minneapolis Thursday, likely the first time the records have been used by a business in Minnesota.
Jake Ingebrigtson, co-owner of Car and Credit Connection, sought information on four cars after reading in the Star Tribune that data stored by city license plate readers is retained for one year and available to the public. Ingebrigtson's company sells cars to people with bad credit, and the owners of the cars had stopped making payments.
Minneapolis has 10 license plate readers, most of them mounted on police and traffic cars, that scan thousands of license plates a day and store their location. The city has captured 4.9 million plates in 2012 alone.
Ingebrigtson received his data on Thursday morning and noticed one car had been spotted seven times at the same location. At 9 a.m. he input the coordinates into Google Maps on his Blackberry. By 9:30, he was standing in front of the car near Lake Street and Interstate 35W in south Minneapolis.
"It was comical. I’ve been looking for this car for two months," Ingebrigtson said, adding that it was clear they were "hiding the car there."
The company had previously visited the owner's house in St. Paul, only to find a "for rent" sign in the window. “They fall off the face of the Earth," Ingebrigtson said. "They won’t return your calls."
Fifteen minutes after locating the car, which was parked on a city street, Ingebrigtson's repo man arrived to tow it back to his lot.
“This is a thousand dollars that just got put in my pocket because of this, basically," Ingebrigtson said.
The city provided data on two other cars he was looking for, but had no information on the fourth. Ingebrigtson plans to look for the other two this evening. Some of the data on the car he repossessed included pictures, since police keep photos for 21 days.
As lawmakers consider new statutes that would potentially reclassify license plate reader data, Ingebrigtson hopes they carve out some exemption for lien holders on a vehicle.
It's not the first time Ingebrigtson, 33, has made a surprising find. He has twice found the St. Paul Winter Carnival medallion.
Top: A license plate reader on a bridge in North Minneapolis. Most of the city's readers are mounted to vehicles.
Left: Ingebrigtson after finding the Winter Carnival medallion in 2007