YORK -- Sgt. Keith Wills spotted a car with a cracked windshield. Its driver pulled into a gas station parking lot, and Wills slid in behind it. That was easy the part.
But was the car stolen? Was its registration expired? Was its driver wanted by police?
The eight-year patrol officer picked up his radio and read the tag number to a York Police Department dispatcher.
"Now, we have to wait," Wills said Friday from his patrol car. "It might take her three to four minutes to get it, or it might be right away, depending on the volume of phone calls she has."
The wait is typical for York's officers, but change is coming. A $233,825 federal technology grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will buy computers for the patrol unit's cruisers, meaning those delays should end soon.
York Police Chief Bill Mobley said 12 to 18 cars will be outfitted with the computers by the end of the year.
The effort has been embraced by York's officers.
"We will have instant access in our cars," Lt. Gary Messer said. "We will be able to verify information that's on the (computer) screen against driver's licenses without having to go over the radio to the dispatcher. We will have the same information ... in our cars."
Authorities will be able to check for things such as suspended or expired driver's licenses and stolen vehicles. They also will be able to check whether motorists have outstanding arrest warrants.
For now, York patrol officers rely on dispatchers for motorists' information.
"Sometimes, we have to release the motorist not knowing if his driver's license or vehicle registration is expired," Messer said. "We could have just released a driver whose license was suspended or a (motorist in a) stolen car because we didn't know."
Other agencies, including the Rock Hill Police Department and the York County Sheriff's Office, use similar computer systems in their cars.