Palo Alto, a city in California, has decided to install 20 automated license plate readers in its downtown area, shopping center, California Avenue, and prominent city intersections. The license plate numbers will automatically be entered into a database, which will be cross-referenced against a “hit list” of stolen and wanted vehicles. Police officers from Palo Alto and select neighboring agencies will also be able to use the system to investigate various crimes, including smash-and-grabs at the mall, catalytic converter thefts in residential neighborhoods, and car break-ins in commercial districts.
While some residents are thrilled about the introduction of surveillance technology due to the increasing property theft problem, others are concerned about the prospect of cameras targeting communities of color or other marginalized populations. Council member Vicki Veenker and Vice Mayor Greer Stone both said they were worried about the Police Department’s plan to have its contractor storing the license plate data and potentially sharing it with other jurisdictions.
Police Capt. James Reifschneider, who is spearheading the implementation of the new technology, assured the council that the automated license plate recognition (ALPR) technology would not be deployed in residential neighborhoods, unless it’s on a temporary basis and in response to a specific crime spree in a particular area. Despite the Council’s concern, the ALPR systems will only target “areas where they are seeing the most amount of crimes, which the system should be able to solve.”
The city will retain ALPR data for 30 days, with some exceptions for entries that are related to crimes or major investigations. It would only share data with law enforcement agencies that provide an explicit justification for why they need the information. The council is also considering agreements with nearby agencies like the Mountain View Police Department that allow data sharing, while departments that are not subject to such agreements will not have access to the city’s data.
– Palo Alto already has an automated license plate reader affixed to a police cruiser that captures license plate information as it roams around town.
– The new system, unlike the existing one, will rely on fixed cameras that will function 24/7 and capture license plate data at night.
– The policy prohibits the city from using the ALPR system to harass or intimidate individuals.
The implementation of ALPR technology raises concerns about privacy and potential misuse, particularly targeting marginalized populations. However, considering the increasing property theft problem, the ALPR system can help solve crimes in the city.
The implementation of automated license plate readers in Palo Alto may help reduce property theft crimes. However, the city council must ensure that the technology used is not deployed in a way that violates individuals’ privacy rights or harms marginalized communities. The city must also clearly define and limit data storage and sharing to prevent potential misuse.