Advisory Regarding the Department of Assets, Information and Services’ Management of Municipal License Plates Registered to City Vehicles

OIG found that the municipal license plate inventory the Department of Assets, Information and Services (AIS) manages does not match the Illinois Secretary of State (ILSOS) database of municipal plates issued to the City. Approximately 7,000 municipal license plates issued by ILSOS for City vehicles are unaccounted for at AIS. Without an accurate database and regular audit of the City’s municipal license plates, AIS is unable to account for and track the possession and use of all municipal license plates assigned to the City, resulting in, among other things, a significant risk of abuse and misconduct with municipal plates and vehicles within the City’s fleet.

OIG’s review of AIS’ records discovered disjointed datasets and lists and multiple outdated recordkeeping practices. OIG also found that AIS’ municipal license plate records are incomplete and inaccurate or outdated. AIS’ current practices also lack effective quality control and auditing measures to ensure that license plates are properly registered and affixed to City vehicles or properly destroyed after the end of service. Without regular audits of the municipal plate inventory, thousands of discrepancies between ILSOS and AIS records have developed over time. Accordingly, AIS is unable to accurately account for all the license plates within its physical possession and is unable to verify that all license plates currently registered to City vehicles are properly affixed to the correct vehicle within the M5 database. 

The existence of thousands of unaccounted municipal license plates poses serious safety and security issues for the City. Lost or misplaced license plates could be attached to non-City vehicles, allowing those vehicles to be illegally driven and improperly used. With improperly registered plates, City vehicles involved in traffic accidents or violations could create liability issues. Furthermore, allowing plates to be registered to multiple vehicles and failing to account for when the plates are swapped between vehicles provides ripe opportunity for City vehicles to be abused, misappropriated, or misused in violation of City policies or rules.

In order to mitigate the safety and security risks, OIG recommended that AIS take the following steps to improve their municipal license plate data:

  1. AIS should undertake efforts to audit, as soon as practical, all municipal license plates within its possession, and upload every plate and its identifying information into the M5 database, including the vehicle’s VIN, make, model, and other relevant fields, as well as the plate and vehicle’s current status. Such an audit would include a review of the M5 database and any active lists to verify license plates in the system are currently in its possession, including all license plates that are inactive, marked for destruction, temporarily waiting to be reassigned, and any other status within their database or active lists, so that M5 is the sole repository for all municipal plate information.
  2. Once AIS has conducted a full, complete audit of the municipal plates within its possession, AIS should partner with ILSOS to reconcile its M5 database with ILSOS’ database and develop ongoing communication and verification with ILSOS. AIS can periodically share its data and audit results with ILSOS by uploading its data via a secure network or electronic file delivery system, thereby permitting ILSOS to review and confer on the accuracy of AIS’ M5 data.
  3. After its first full audit of municipal plates, AIS should conduct regularly scheduled audits of all municipal license plates and fleet vehicles within the City’s possession to ensure the M5 database remains accurate.
  4. AIS should develop a system in partnership with ILSOS to allow for direct access to each department’s databases for real-time analysis and rigorous inventory control to mitigate future risks from incomplete or missing municipal plate data. A system that allows ILSOS to directly access AIS’ database and system would ensure ILSOS could quickly identify issues with the City’s municipal plates and registration and directly communicate with AIS to resolve the problems.
  5. AIS should register and assign all City vehicles––including rental and leased vehicles which require a municipal plate––to ensure that municipal plates are properly issued to the appropriate vehicle and remain with the vehicle until it is returned or at the end of its service. Maintaining control and possession of municipal plate registration and assignment will prevent external parties from potentially abusing or misusing municipal plates.