Apr 8 2013

Police Chief Explains License Plate Readers to Public Safety Committee

City Considers Purchase of Fixed LPRs at Piedmont/Oakland Borders and Additional Mobile LPRs in Police Cars –

At its Thursday, April 4, meeting, the Piedmont Public Safety Committee considered the proposed License Plate Reader (LPR) project.  The City Council had requested the Committee to discuss the proposal and make a recommendation to the Council.

Consideration began with a presentation of the project  by Piedmont Police Chief Rikki Goede.  Noting that, “A lot of people don’t understand how LPRs work,” the Police Chief showed a short video of a Long Beach, California, mobile LPR unit.  The police officer featured in the video drove around the city watching the pair of video screens located below him next to the passenger seat.  As he drove, the pair of screens displayed the rapidly changing series of still photos snapped of vehicles he passed.  For each vehicle, one photo recorded the plate and the other was a color snapshot of the car.  In the first six months use of the ALPR (Automatic License Plate Readers) system in Long Beach, California, Police identified nearly 1,000 stolen or lost license plates and seized 275 stolen vehicles. Total crime in Long Beach in 2012 increased 3.4% over 2011, but residential burglaries increased 23.1% according to the Long Beach Police Department crime statistics.

The Department of Homeland Security provided more than $50 million from 2007 to 2012 solely for the purchase LPRs by local and state law enforcement agencies.  Cities buy more mobile units than fixed units since their purpose is to locate stolen vehicles and cars with unpaid parking tickets for booting or towing.  Oakland has only mobile LPR units, according to Piedmont’s Police Chief.

The five boroughs of New York City have 238 LPRs, 130 mobile and 108 fixed units. The crime rates of rape, robbery, assault, burglary, grand larceny, and auto theft increased in 47 of New York’s 76 police precincts in 2012, NYPD figures show. Murder rates declined, but no one credits the LPRs. Seventeen precincts showed double-digit percentage increases, including the wealthy upper east side of Manhattan where robberies increased by 15% the first year the LPR system was fully operational. City Councilman Peter Vallone, Chair of the New York Public Safety Committee, noted: “The mayor says murder is down, so what’s he missing? He’s missing the fact that crime in every borough is up, the first time that this has happened in 20 years.”

Washington, D.C. has had 250 LPRs since November 2011.  While homicides decreased by 20 percent in the District, other types of violent crimes are up.  Violent sex crimes went up nearly 51 percent when compared to 2011, according to police data.  Assault with a dangerous weapon increased by 7 percent and the number of robberies reported in 2012 was unchanged from 2011.

While the LPRs have not caused a decrease in crime rates, the cities’ systems have resulted in significant increases in revenues from booted and towed cars with unpaid parking tickets.  Goede assured the meeting that, “We aren’t going to be using the system to find cars with parking tickets.” Since federal funds paid for the LPRs purchase and installation across the country until the end of 2012, they have been enthusiastically welcomed.  No outside source for funding Piedmont’s LPRs was mentioned and, in fact, considerable reference was made to need to be mindful of the Piedmont budget in scoping the project.

In correspondence to the Committee, Resident Kathleen Quenneville asked, “What is the justification for considering a sole source contract?”  Public Safety Committee Chair MichaelGardner responded to this question, saying the sole source had been justified by the Police Chief’s declaration of unique qualities of the 3M Company LPRs and their wide acceptance.  Complete cost estimates for the LPR project options under consideration have not yet been obtained.

Comments may be emailed to the City Council via City Clerk John Tulloch at jtulloch@ci.piedmont.ca.us

The LPRs are automatic, that is they automatically seek and photograph all license plates and separately photograph the whole car,   upload the photos to NCRIC and other receivers and check the plates against hot-lists.  Some reports use the acronym ALPR. 

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