Richmond, Calif., Pulls Plug on License Plate Reader Deal

City council members voiced concerns about the potential for the contractor to sell or share data with Immigration and Customs Enforcement that could be used to track down undocumented immigrants.

by Angela Ruggiero, East Bay Times / July 1, 2019
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(TNS) — The Richmond City Council has decided not to extend its contract with an automatic license plate reader company, after concerns the data could be shared with ICE federal agents.

Council did not extend the $10,000 per year contract with Vigilant Solutions, based in Livermore. The company has entered into a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, for unknown reasons, said Richmond Chief Allwyn Brown at Tuesday’s council meeting. The city has had a contract with Vigilant since 2014, and the new one would have started July 1.

Now, the city will have a gap in being able to use automated license plate readers for at least six months until the city finds a suitable company, if any at all.

Council members had concerns over the potential for Vigilant or other government agencies to either sell or share data to ICE in order to track down undocumented immigrants.

Typically, the license plate reader technology is used to help police locate vehicles associated with potential crimes or suspects. The data is also shared with other law enforcement agencies, such as the CHP, to help track down the suspects on freeways or other cities.

Brown tried to reassure the council that Richmond’s contract with Vigilant doesn’t allow for sharing information directly to ICE; all data to other police agencies is not allowed to be shared further, he said.

“Who we share our data with is contractually protected. They (other police agencies) can’t share it beyond what they receive without requesting it from us directly,” the chief said.

But council members weren’t convinced. They voted to end the contract, and request proposals from other potential vendors in a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Thomas Butt and Councilman Nathaniel Bates voting “no.”

During discussions, Councilman Ben Choi, who shared he was not documented for the first 10 years he was in this country, said even the mention of ICE is a very real concern for residents.

“The ICE issue is a very serious issue. There is a real threat on the people that are living in this country undocumented,” he said. “I’m not going to feel comfortable sharing our data with anyone until we have rock-solid assurances.”

Other council members such as Demnlus Johnson, Melvin Willis and Jael Myrick said they felt similarly. Willis for example, said he wasn’t concerned about Richmond police using the information to track down immigrants, but instead what other government agencies or police departments would do with it.

“It’s about contracting with someone that will have access to our information … that is known for working with ICE currently,” Willis said. “It’s about investing out of bad companies, and actually investing in good ones that will respect our community.”

Police officials estimated switching to another automatic license plate reader company, such as PIPS Technology used by San Francisco police, could cost the city $100,000. The city will have to buy new gear and install it on police cars already equipped with the license plate reading technology from Vigilant.

Councilman Myrick called out the police department for not bringing up the potential for new license plate companies in talks last year, when the city renewed its sanctuary city policy.

“You had to know this was going to be an issue. Why didn’t we do a (request for proposals)?” he said, among cheers from the audience.

“There’s nothing that you can do to fix that because you don’t have a time machine,” Myrick said.

Without the Vigilant contract, the chief warned that there would be a gap in services for about six months, potentially harming the police department’s ability to solve crimes, he said. Chief Brown said using the license readers helps track down the movement of criminals, and is even a “great prevention tool.” He did not elaborate how the readers were a prevention tool.

“Richmond disproportionally experiences gun violence by people who move around in cars,” Brown said.

The council will extend the invitation for requests for proposals from other companies to some other cities along the Interstate 880 corridor to see if they want to join in on a new contract. Those cities will include San Pablo, Hercules, Pinole and down to Emeryville.

©2019 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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