Mar 19 2013

Network of License Plate Readers Proposed for Piedmont

City Council to consider cost to install readers at all Piedmont entrances or a dozen primary entrances. 

On February 4, 2013, Police Chief Rikki Goede informed the City Council that the Police Department had met with a vendor of license plate readers and was waiting for a final estimate of the cost to install License Plate Recognition systems at all Piedmont ingress/egress points.  The Police Department determined there are 24 entrance points between Piedmont and Oakland.

A partial cost estimate by the 3M company was referenced in the Police Chief’s March 18 Update. For the software, equipment, mounting assembly hardware, sales tax, shipping costs, for the 57 cameras, the City of Piedmont would pay 3M an estimated $978,716, not including installation. “Additionally, an optional, but recommended, three-year extended maintenance warranty of $174,700 would need to be considered, increasing the total to $1,153,416.”

At the February 19, 2013 City Council meeting Vice Mayor Margaret Fujioka asked Chief Goede to determine if the $68,068.33 Citizens Option for Public Safety (COPS) funds from the State can be used to purchase additional license plate readers.  At the June 21, 2010 City Council meeting, George Kersh objected to the use of the prior year COPS funds for purchase of a license plate reader.  (That license plate reader remains in mobile use in a Piedmont Police vehicle.)

Police departments nationwide are eagerly acquiring Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) systems.  A report published by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) finds that ALPR systems are primarily used for finding stolen cars or vehicles that have multiple parking violations and can be booted or towed.  With federal funding, police department purchases skyrocketed and the cost of ALPR camera units is decreasing.

In 2009, Tiburon installed ALPRs at their border on the only two roads going in and out of town at a cost of $130,000*.  Cameras point in each direction of traffic, each one trained on two lanes.   The cameras constantly look for listed plates of stolen vehicles.  When a plate is recognized, an automated alert with date, time and location is sent to any linked network.  There are a number of false positives due to the California Department of Motor Vehicles lag time in updating recovered stolen vehicles.  The majority of Tiburon hits are lost or stolen plates, not stolen cars or other crimes.

The currently available camera units are capable of capturing thousands of license plates per minute from two traffic lanes.  They can be mounted on buildings, telephone poles, information signs, traffic signals or on a police car.

The 2012 PERF publication “How Are Innovative Technologies Transforming Policing” reported on a 30-week control experiment in 45 high auto theft locations in Mesa, Arizona (2012 population 439,041).  The license plate reader systems scanned 751,000 plates, resulting in the recovery of 14 stolen vehicles.  In a comparable period without the license plate reader systems, 7 stolen vehicles were recovered.  While twice as many vehicles were recovered, there was no decrease in the number of auto thefts after the license plate reader systems were acquired.  (This was noted as the only field evaluation of the effectiveness of the systems for decreasing crime rates and crime solving.)

PERF found that 71% of responding police agencies across the US have license plate reader systems. They are used to locate stolen cars and cars with multiple parking tickets in order to boot or tow them.  The readers can scan passing cars or parked cars (from a moving police vehicle) and automatically alert police on any license number that is in the data base.

*Half the cost was paid by Belvedere, the island town whose only access is through Tiburon.

4 Responses to “Network of License Plate Readers Proposed for Piedmont”

  1. Chief Goede cited Claremont, CA as an example of plate readers. Claremont is encircled by Pomona which has a higher crime rate. As I recall, she said the system scanned 22 million plates, had 17,000 hits and resulted in 72 arrests – stolen vehicles, warrants. The systems are also used to support criminal investigations but a “hit” rate there is harder to quantify. While Claremont used a system of 42 fixed cameras, the proposal for Piedmont is to install 10 – 12 cameras (out of a total of 24 city entries) and an undetermined number of mobile units on police cars. And the recommendation for the system also comes with the request that an investigator position be added to the Police Department, cost not stated.

  2. Time for another parcel tax. Piedmonters LOVE parcel taxes.

  3. Piedmonters are understandably concerned, as am I, about the increase in burglaries and home invasion type of crimes. What is needed are effective tools for the Police that stop crime before it occurs. If Lic. Pl. Readers (LPR) can do that, and are cost effective, than perhaps the very high cost is justified. But there cannot be the assumption that every would-be burglar is driving a stolen car and perhaps further study needs to be done showing how effective in stopping crime the LPR are and how to best use limited financial resources.

    Entirely missing in this discussion are “Big Brother” issues. Does the system track and store data on the 99.9% of license plates that are not “hits”? I believe there is no law in California nor restriction on Police Departments from storing and then retrieving that information later.

    I understand a “hit” would also be on someone with an unpaid parking ticket; is this instant technology needed for minor civil infractions like parking tickets?

    How to most efficiently use taxpayer resources is an ongoing issue in Piedmont.

  4. If I understood the Chief, the user (PPD) decides what a “hit” is. I think LPN from multiple lists – stolen cars, warrants, sex offenders, other criminals – are pooled into a database and all plates checked against that. I don’t think plates not on the list (99%) are stored in the database but I am not sure. Parking tickets could probably be added to the list. It sounded like no video was collected.

    The Chief cited the data from Claremont, CA. 22 MILLION scanned, 17,000 “hits” and 72 arrests.

    The next Public Safety Committee meeting on April 4, 5:00 in City Hall would be a good place to have these questions answered.

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