The San Jose City Council voted unanimously to spend $250,000 on a huge expansion of license plate readers earlier this week in an attempt to slow the growing number of robberies in the city and surrounding area.
While crime in the Bay Area has significantly increased in the recent years, a spate of robberies within the last month trained a nationwide focus on high-profile robberies, such as the “flash mob” style robberies around San Francisco’s Union Square and an 80-person robbery in Walnut Creek occurring the weekend before Thanksgiving. San Jose was not spared during this time, with a robbery at Valley Fair Mall and a large group robbery at a Lululemon.
With the Christmas shopping season ramping up, and security experts as well as citizens demanding more policing, the San Jose City Council decided on the $250,000 allocation to help address the growing issue with the plate readers, which capture and save the license plate numbers of all vehicles driving through a certain area. While there were few concrete details of the plan when announced, backers were careful to note that local taxpayers would not be fronting the $250,000 for the plate readers. Instead, the funds will come from the $18 million San Jose received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), whose funds were meant to be assigned to places to help the city recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Sam Liccardo said after the vote that the readers will help law enforcement groups catch robbers and help break up larger rings.
“Smash-and-grab mobs are an affront to the hard work and safety of shoppers, retail workers and shopkeepers throughout the region,” Mayor Liccardo said. “The expanded investment in license plate reader cameras add to the larger tool set law enforcement uses to apprehend organized burglary rings. We know that with technology, our officers are able to do more. They’re able to apprehend many who have been involved in these organized criminal efforts, and we want to ensure they have the resources they need.”
Members of the City Council expressed similar sentiments, pointing out just how bad crime and violence have increased recently.
“It has impacted the psyche of people who are afraid to go get boba because they don’t know if their car is gonna be broken into or they’re gonna be accosted,” Councilwoman Maya Esparza said earlier this week.
Praise, criticism over increase of license plate readers in San Jose
Despite the unanimous passage, many groups warned that the plate readers would not do much to deter crime. They specifically noted the small number of arrests being linked to the first plate readers that were installed in 2016. Citing a 2021 study, it was found that of 1.6 million plates scanned in 2020, only 1, 509 were of use to law enforcement, with even fewer leading to arrests.
“It’s a statistical zero,” said Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission leader Brian Hofer in a statement on Thursday. “We might as well just stand out on the corner and yell into the wind. It’s going to have the same effectiveness.”
“What analysis leads you to believe that a quarter million dollars’ worth of license plate readers is going to stop a mob from going into a mall?” he says. “The price of license plate readers has dropped quite a bit recently, so they’re either getting a ridiculous number of readers, it’s a really long contract, or they bought all sorts of bells and whistles with it. San Jose’s not a small city, but that’s a lot of money.”
“Politicians feel this pressure in this hysteria climate we live in, driven by the media that they have to do something. And, unfortunately, people fall back into the old way of thinking: pour more money down the drain.”
Other critics cited privacy and civil liberty infringement concerns, prompting both lawmakers and law enforcement officials to defend the spending.
“This is not for big brother, information sharing, monitoring – you know, anything like that,” noted Sergeant Christian Camarillo said to the media on Thursday. “This is merely to help combat and solve crimes. Whether it’s these organized robberies or any other crime. LPRs will only be used in criminal investigations.”
Mayor Liccardo also addressed the issue saying, “Previous efforts to install cameras have prompted concerns about infringing on civil liberties. The city will have to figure out how to appropriately deploy cameras at busy intersections versus residential neighborhoods on a case-by-case basis. The ‘where’ matters a lot, and the context matters. I don’t think there’s one size that fits all.”
Many security experts noted Friday that these problems are not new when it comes to license plate readers.
“It’s not that unusual of a complaint,” said Simon Huffman, a security system equipment company researcher to the Globe on Friday. “Those little guys are always complained about when they are in the process of going in, but people don’t realize just how little information is going out there from it. It’s just plate number and what time and place it went by. No one is being photographed, it’s not registering how many are in the car, or anything like that. They’re just there to find those cars as cops can’t be everywhere at once.”
The proposal approved this week included language that forbade and plate reader data to be shared with immigration officials. Final details on what details can be given to whom will be decided on by city lawmakers in early 2022.
- Governor Newsom Issues Legislative Proposal For Another Two Weeks Paid COVID-19 Sick Leave - January 25, 2022
- Bill to Institute Mobile Pharmacy Vans Introduced in CA Senate - January 25, 2022
- San Jose City Mayor Sam Liccardo Pushing for Tuesday Vote On Mandatory Firearm Insurance and Annual Fee - January 25, 2022