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Scanners give police a grip on fake ID cards

Soon, underage drinkers in Ybor City will fear a computerized voice saying two little words:


In about two weeks, Tampa police will use talking, handheld scanners to find altered or fake identification cards.

The scanners look like a chunky Palm Pilot. Attached to the top is a slot for swiping a card with a magnetic strip. Attached by a cable will be a handheld scanner to check IDs with bar codes instead of magnetic strips.

The 1-pound computer can scan one card every 20 seconds and can read magnetic strip or bar-code information off driver's licenses, military identification cards and Immigration and Naturalization Service cards.

When a military identification card is swiped through the machine, the card holder's photo is displayed in black and white on the 3-inch screen.

Eventually, the tiny computers will also tell officers if someone is wanted on an outstanding warrant.

Tampa police Officer Billy Lamb, whose Ybor City beat encompasses the busy bar and nightclub district, said until now officers relied on their eyes to ferret out fake or altered ID cards. But fake IDs are becoming so prevalent that the only way to discover a fake is to read the information on the magnetic strip or bar code.

To use the new technology, 24 Tampa officers received 16 hours of training.

Lamb said that the scanners are just one of several planned initiatives to catch underage drinkers.

The department bought four scanners at a cost of $2,500 each.

"This is yet another tool that the Police Department can use and use effectively," said Mayor Dick Greco, who attended a news conference in Ybor City announcing the new device on Friday.

"(Underage drinking) is something that has caused us a problem and has for quite some time."