A controversial move by the Carlsbad City Council to install 51 license plate-reading cameras at 14 intersections at the city’s borders in an attempt to fight crime is generating quite a buzz on social media.
Reports on the action by such media outlets as NBC 7 and the Los Angeles Times have drawn dozens of comments, many of them negative.
“Police state in full effect,” wrote one Facebook commentator.
“Just another way they can track us,” wrote another.
“Good. It’ll help catch criminals,” countered a third.
The Council on March 14 voted to spend “an amount not to exceed $807,025.20) on a contract with Mallory Safety & Supply for a “fixed and mobile license plate recognition system” concentrated on key access points to the city.
According to the city staff report on the Council agenda, “51 fixed License Plate Recognition (LPR) cameras will be acquired and six marked police vehicles will be outfitted with mobile LPR cameras to expand the existing LPR system currently in place. The acquisition will include the commissioning of all equipment, programming, aiming, software installation, and training and will include a warranty and service for period of five years. The LPR cameras are part of an overall crime reduction plan to assist the police department in reducing crime and making for a safer community.”
Carlsbad police in 2011 installed mobile LPR cameras on four police cars, two of which are still in service. There are currently no fixed LPR cameras.
According to the report, “From 2014-2016, the city of Carlsbad experienced an increase in property crime. These crimes were primarily residential burglaries, auto thefts, and thefts from vehicles. The LPR system captures license plate information from vehicles, and alerts are sent to the police department if the vehicle associated with the license plate has been reported stolen. Thus, if a stolen vehicle is entering the city and is captured on LPR, the police department will be notified immediately, increasing the likelihood of recovering the vehicle and capturing the suspect…. Additionally, the license plate information is stored in a database that can be mined for geocoded photographs of the vehicles captured on the camera, improving the chances of investigators solving crimes that have been committed. Arrest records provide evidence that the majority of the property crimes are committed by offenders who come from outside our city, commit a crime, and then flee the city. These offenders most frequently travel by car. Through November 2016, nearly three quarters of the offenders arrested for property crimes (excluding shoplifting) live outside of the City of Carlsbad. The LPR system will assist authorities in identifying these suspects who are entering the city to commit crimes.”
While the contract is with Mallory Safety & Supply, the “selected vendor,” according to the report, is a company called Vigilant Solutions. Vigilant Solutions was recently featured in The Atlantic, which in a January 2016 story headlined, “An Unprecedented Threat to Privacy” observed, “ Throughout the United States – outside private houses, apartment complexes, shopping centers, and businesses with large employee parking lots – a private corporation, Vigilant Solutions, is taking photos of cars and trucks with its vast network of unobtrusive cameras. It retains location data on each of those pictures, and sells it. It’s happening right now in nearly every major American city. The company has taken roughly 2.2 billion license-plate photos to date. Each month, it captures and permanently stores about 80 million additional geotagged images. They may well have photographed your license plate. As a result, your whereabouts at given moments in the past are permanently stored. Vigilant Solutions profits by selling access to this data (and tries to safeguard it against hackers). Your diminished privacy is their product. And the police are their customers. The company counts 3,000 law-enforcement agencies among its clients. Thirty thousand police officers have access to its database. Do your local cops participate?”
At the Council meeting, a number of residents faulted the plan, citing privacy concerns and likening the proposed Council action to “Big Brother,” from the George Orwell book “1984.’
But, ultimately, four of the five Council members voted to approve the contract, with only Cori Schumacher opposed. They effectively said safety trumps privacy concerns, noting that FBI statistics show a 23% increase in property crimes and a 19% spike in the overall crime in Carlsbad over the last three years.