License Plate Scanners Are Coming to Victorville, Calif.

The city will add 37 of the automated cameras on various signals. The cameras work by capturing all license plate numbers that come into view and can alert the police to the locations of wanted suspects.

by Martin Estacio, Daily Press / April 13, 2020
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(TNS) — Nearly 40 high-tech cameras used to scan license plates will be installed after a City Council approval last week.

Costing close to $400,000, the 37 automatic license plate readers will be fixed on traffic signals at locations throughout the city — locations that went undisclosed during Tuesday's regular meeting.

City Manager Keith Metzler said with an additional maintenance contract — that didn't require Council approval — the cameras' total cost would be "pretty darn close to the $450,000" budgeted last June for "PD traffic enforcement technology."

"The technology is largely intended to be a tool to help law enforcement solve crimes faster," he said during the Tuesday meeting.

The cameras work by capturing all license plate numbers that come into view and can alert the police to the locations of wanted suspects.

Victorville ranks as one of the most dangerous cities in San Bernardino County and has seen a 26% rise in violent crime over recent years, the Daily Press reported in September.

With expenses rising yearly on the contract with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, city officials have touted the cameras as a one-time cost that could lead to improved public safety without the need to hire more deputies.

Victorville Sheriff's Captain Rick Bessinger told the Council the cameras, which are in use in neighboring cities like Apple Valley and Hesperia, had already assisted his department in solving crimes.

As an example, he said a robbery suspect was recently arrested after the suspect's car was captured by an ALPR in Hesperia within the same day.

"It's questionable whether or not we would have been able to solve that crime that timely and, or at all, because we had a vague vehicle description and that was it," Bessinger said.

The captain likened the cameras to having a deputy sheriff standing at every intersection where they're located.

ALPRs have come under scrutiny from groups — such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation — which have characterized them as a "powerful surveillance technology that can be used to invade the privacy of individuals as well as to violate the rights of entire communities."

The groups have criticized companies like Vigilant Solutions, which the city will contract with for its system, because they say the companies sell and collect the ALPR data, a majority of which involves drivers who have not been accused of a crime.

state auditor's report filed in February found that four law enforcement agencies, three of which contract with Vigilant, didn't have required ALPR policies in place, or had policies that were "deficient and their practices (did) not adequately consider the individual's privacy when handling or retaining the ALPR images and associated data."

Council member Blanca Gomez, who voted no to installing the cameras, said she couldn't offer her consent in light of privacy concerns and questions on how the data would be handled.

According to Bessinger, the data collected would only be used for law enforcement purposes.

A state law passed in 2015 requires that operators of an ALPR system "implement a usage and privacy policy in order to ensure that the collection, use, maintenance, sharing, and dissemination of ALPR information is consistent with respect for individuals' privacy and civil liberties."

The policy should be made available to the public in writing and online, and include the authorized purposes of using the system, which employees are allowed to access, and how it will be monitored to ensure information is secure in compliance with privacy laws, state civil code reads.

When the cameras will be installed was unknown during the meeting.

Metzler said an additional 20 cameras would be proposed to the Council as part of the next fiscal year budget, meaning close to 60 cameras could possibly be installed in Victorville.

The service agreement with Vigilant is good for one year, with an option to pay for an additional 12-month period.

Mayor Pro Tem Rita Ramirez, who first suggested some type of technology to assist law enforcement, said she hoped the ALPR system would lead to a decline in crime:

"If this can be a deterrent in terms of having people see they can't get away with it ... I know that our residents will be very happy to know that we're doing our utmost best to protect them."

©2020 Daily Press, Victorville, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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