LOS ALTOS HILLS (CBS SF) — A Bay Area city is pushing the installation of automatic license plate readers (ALPR) in hopes of fighting and deterring crime.
According to a city government analyst, 10 ALPRs are currently operational in Los Altos Hills, and 30 more should be operational by sometime in February.
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They will be placed at every street entrance in Los Altos Hills, as well as numerous other streets throughout the city, says the management analyst. They run 24 hours a day, and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office can use the ALPRs as a crime investigation tool.
“We hope it will make people safer, we hope it will stop people from committing crimes in our city,” said resident Rajiv Bhateja. “We have very few burglaries a year, but we have very few apartments.”
Bhateja has been a big supporter of the idea for several years and helped introduce it to the city leadership.
“Our community tends to be what we call a goal-rich environment,” he said. “I think if we can make our city and the world a little bit safer, that’s a good thing for everyone.”
Los Altos Hills partnered with Flock Safety to implement the cameras.
“Our technology is designed to capture objective evidence. We take photos of the back of a car as it drives by and use machine learning from that to identify what kind of car it is – make, model, color – unique features like bumper stickers, roof racks, aftermarket wheels and too The important thing is to identify the license plate yourself,” said Josh Thomas of Flock Safety. “They indiscriminately collect objective data from vehicles.”
Some local residents have expressed concerns about privacy.
“I’m not convinced that we really have a problem. I feel it is an invasion of my privacy,” said a Los Altos Hills resident, who asked not to be named. “I’m just really concerned about privacy issues and I’m also concerned about racial profiling.”
Thomas explained that their technology only captures still images of the vehicles’ rear license plates and features.
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“We collect vehicle information. Not people. There is no face recognition. We don’t collect anything about people. It’s just the back of a car – and in fact we don’t even know who’s driving the car.”
However, residents of Los Altos Hills have the option to opt out. They can submit a form online to prove their vehicles are registered to a Los Altos Hills address and then the system will not record any data on those vehicles.
Bhateja believes in the ALPRs.
“It’s only supposed to take pictures of rear license plates and only still pictures. So it can’t be used for traffic violations, speeding, stop signs and all that,” he said. “The sheriff needs to have a case number when accessing the information. They must have an investigative reason for looking at this data.”
According to the city, the ALPR cameras have three major benefits:
• The physical presence of a camera and accompanying street signs indicating that a recording is in progress can limit crime in the first place.
• After a crime, the data collected can give the law enforcement authorities clues for investigations.
• Cameras can send instant alerts to law enforcement agencies when a vehicle of interest is identified.
A spokesman for the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office provided KPIX 5 with the following statement:
“The Sheriff’s Office is pleased to assist the City of Los Altos Hills with the introduction of License Plate Readers (LPRs). LPRs will help the Sheriff’s Office use technology to improve prevention and solve crimes. We are committed to using all available resources to improve the safety of residents of the City of Los Altos Hills.”
Los Altos Hills isn’t the first Bay Area community to use Flock’s technology.
“All over the Bay Area,” Thomas said. “Morgan Hill, Benicia, Vallejo, Colma – all up and down the Peninsula, North Bay, East Bay.”
Los Altos Hills residents who wish to opt out can do so here.
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