Forum on license plate readers planned

Forum on license plate readers planned

Michele Ellson

The Alameda Police Department is taking fresh steps toward implementing new technology that scans thousands of license plates in search of stolen cars and crime suspects.

The department has issued a draft policy for use of automated license plate readers they hope to buy and is hosting a public forum to discuss their plans, at 6:30 p.m. February 3 in the Main Library, 1550 Oak Street. The council will consider the policy at a to-be-scheduled meeting.

City Council members gave the department the green light to pursue funding for the readers in October, but council members said they wanted policies in place detailing their use and how long data collected by them will be kept before granting police the right to purchase them.

The two-page draft policy would permit license plate data to be used “for official and legitimate law enforcement business” in conjunction with “any routine patrol operation or criminal investigation.” Officers would be required to undergo training to use the equipment, and priority for its use would be given to areas around homicides, shootings “and other major incidents.”

“Partial license plates reported during major crimes should be entered into the ALPR system in an attempt to identify suspect vehicles,” it says.

License plate data captured by the readers would be kept for one year, and for longer if police believe it is – or will become – evidence in a criminal or civil case. Under those circumstances, the information will be downloaded and booked into evidence.

Data would be available to approved department staffers, other law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and others “as permitted by law.” The data would not be open to public review, the draft policy says.

The data collected by the Alameda Police Department’s plate readers would be stored in the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center database, along with plate reader data of other local police agencies.

Police Chief Paul Rolleri has said he wants the technology to more easily track crime suspects and run plates to find stolen cars, something he has said his officers are already doing manually. Some 70 percent of the country’s law enforcement agencies are already using the plate readers, a privacy assessment authored by the Northern California data center says.

But civil liberties advocates have said the technology needlessly collects data on thousands of innocent people, and that the data can be – and has been – misused to spy on people carrying out lawful activities. And some residents want the data the department collects to be purged more frequently.

The draft policy and other documents are available on the city website. The meeting, which will take place in the library’s conference room, will include presentations from the police department, the intelligence center and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Related: Council wants controls before buying license plate scanners

Council to consider license plate tracking system


Donna Eyestone's picture
Submitted by Donna Eyestone on Thu, Jan 16, 2014

Thanks -- I'll be there!

Did you hear that the Boston Police recently "indefinitely suspended" their use of license plate readers?

Submitted by Keith Nealy (not verified) on Thu, Jan 16, 2014

There needs to be a civilian oversight committee to insure that this data is used and purged properly. I have no problem using this technology to search for identified suspects, but it should not be allowed to amass and maintain data on all vehicles it scans. What has happened to "probably cause" as a basis for search and seizure? Aren't we surrendering rights of privacy in the name of security? ≈Those who sacrifice freedom for security will get neither.≈

Submitted by David (not verified) on Thu, Jan 16, 2014

The proposed policy criminalizes ordinary, innocent, people simply for driving their car, because APD treats the ALPR data as evidence in a criminal investigation, not subject to release in any form.

This post-facto treatment of the data as investigatory evidence confirms that the scans are a suspicionless search, contrary to the Fourth Amendment.

It's easy enough to find examples of other law enforcement agencies across the country, even in the Bay area, that comply with freedom of information laws and release the scan data collected by ALPR, even if only partially.

Local news outlets should be pushing back on this policy in the name of transparency and freedom of information.

Submitted by Sharon Nelson (not verified) on Sat, Jan 18, 2014

For it.

Submitted by Karen (not verified) on Mon, Jan 20, 2014

With the increase in crime in the Bay Area, this is the direction we should be going. Just spoke recently with an Oakland family friend who has experienced 3 break-ins in the last 2 months. The recent one she said -- they kicked in their door while they were at home. She said the Oakland cops are so busy with break ins and robberies, they didn't have time to take finger-prints. Can you imagine! Another Oakland family I know just sold their home and moved to Alameda where they feel much safer. She said they pretty much stayed locked up in their home, because they never felt safe.

Folks, we need to do this!