May 9 2013

Council Supports License Plate Readers, Defers Action

Final decision rests on funding

After hearing a detailed presentation by Police Chief Rikki Goede recommending installation of 39 License Plate Reader (LPR) cameras at 15 Piedmont entry points, and listening to speakers on both sides of the issue, the City Council came down unanimously on the side of installing the LPRs.  They deferred a final decision until two committees — the Budget and Financial Planning Advisory Committee (BAFPC) and the Capital Improvement Committee (CIP) — discuss the financial impacts of the $700,000-plus project on the City’s budget at their joint meeting on Thursday, May 9. The Committees are to make a recommendation to the City Council on the LPRs.

Council members made the point that they have hired a professional police chief and feel they should follow her recommendations.

Chief Goede noted that the LPR system won’t solve crime by itself. “It’s a tool,” she said. “You have to have a three-pronged approach of officers, technology, and neighborhood watch. Technology complements ‘boots on the ground’.”  She explained that the license plate data is kept for one year and then destroyed if there is no connection to criminal activity.  “The data is only for license plates,” she said, “not individuals.”   She also pointed out it can take six months to have data analyzed for burglaries and home invasions, the most common crimes in Piedmont, since they are lower priority than homicides and other serious felonies.

Regarding whether LPRs are more effective than hiring another police officer, Councilman Jeff Weiler said, “It costs $165,000 (per year) to hire a new officer. Multiply by five equals $825,000. Isn’t it better to have the LPRs do the work of another officer?”   Chief Goede replied that “Technology is a force multiplier, but with or without the LPRs, we will still ask for more investigative help.”

Several speakers questioned the feasibility of the LPRs. A 2000 Piedmont High School graduate, now a juvenile defense lawyer in Oakland, said, “This could be an overreaction. The message might be Piedmont doesn’t want you. It could have unintended consequences.”

Bob Cheatham, who said his home had been burglarized recently, questioned why there has been no organized study of other possibilities, such as hiring civilians to help watch the city. “Are we in that big of a hurry? Are we sacrificing privacy for security?” he asked.

Leon Bloomfield said he thinks the LPRs are “premature and maybe misguided. It doesn’t do anything for crime prevention. I hope you will do other things before you commit $1 million to this project. Technology doesn’t answer all the questions.”

Speaking in support of the LPRs, John Ehrlich, a retired San Francisco police officer, said the LPRs “will help prevent crime. If criminals know there are cameras, they will go someplace else.”

Lyman Schafer added, “Oakland has a serious crime problem. I feel a sense of urgency.”

The Council members agreed. Council member Garrett Keating noted, “Crime has been rapidly increasing in Piedmont in the past two years. This is an important tool we need to invest in.  There has been an increase in the brazenness of crime.  Echoing the comments of the other Council members, he said,  “The Chief recommends this, and I support it.”

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