The city of California will install 20 license plate readers

(TNS) – Twenty automatic license plate reading cameras with the potential to scan millions of license plates each year will be installed around Newark starting next month, with the aim of deterring crime and solving more cases, according to police officials.

However, it’s unclear whether the mass surveillance program will actually help police achieve these goals, and Council Member Mike Bucci disputes the plans, saying he’s concerned about the wide reach of the technology and the lack of clarity around the policies that govern the use of data.

In June, the Newark City Council voted 3 to 1 to authorize the police department to pay Flock Safety of Atlanta approximately $165,000 to rent 20 cameras that will be mounted around Newark, largely on roads entering and exiting the 14 square mile city.

The cameras can scan up to 30,000 cars per day, according to Flock. Newark has a population of around 50,000.

Mayor Al Nagy, Vice Mayor Mike Hannon and Council Member Maria “Sucy” Collazo supported the plan, while Bucci abstained in the vote and Council Member Luis Freitas was absent.

Nagy, in expressing his support for the cameras, said his wife enjoys watching law enforcement television series where police are often depicted soliciting neighborhoods for security camera footage after a crime.

“Cameras have become a wonderful tool to help solve crime,” Nagy said.

Hannon also supported the cameras.

“There are a lot of citizens saying, ‘You know what, I’m sick of crime, I’m sick of my car being stolen, I’m sick of burglaries. Whatever we have to do to fight crime, we have to do it,” Hannon said.

However, Bucci questioned the installation of the cameras.

“I don’t quite have my colleagues’ enthusiasm for government surveillance,” he said in response to Hannon and Nagy’s remarks.

While Bucci said he was fine with Newark’s private homeowners associations installing similar Flock systems, and with the city previously using license plate readers at the NewPark mall to try to combat break-ins in the parking lot, he’s not convinced that Newark needs cameras at every entrance to town. and exits.

“In general, I’m just not a big fan of mass data collection just for the sake of collecting mass data, especially on people who haven’t done anything,” Bucci said in an interview. .

Police Captain Jolie Macias told the council that the cameras will help police solve crimes by quickly checking a vehicle’s license plate, make, model and color against a national database to know if it has been reported stolen, is associated with a missing person or is wanted as evidence in an investigation.

Macias said that over the past three years in Newark, 70% of people arrested on suspicion of theft, carjacking, burglary, stolen vehicles and theft of catalytic converters were not Newark residents.

“These cameras capturing data as they flee our city are critical,” Macias told the council.

During the presentation of a digital slide on cameras entitled “How does technology prevent and eliminate crime?” Macias said that as more cases are solved and awareness of the cameras increases, they “will act as a deterrent to future crimes.”

But in an interview, Macias said she couldn’t “provide assurances” that crime would be reduced after the cameras were used, “although I really hope it will have a deterrent effect,” he said. she declared.

Newark police don’t have any metrics or statistics to help determine if the cameras are effective and successful, though Macias said that’s something the department would consider.

“Of course, I hope they are going to reduce crime, but they are not only going to be put in place to reduce crime, they are put in place for other police investigations. They are for missing persons and things of that nature,” she said.

Bucci said part of the reason he was concerned was due to nearby Fremont’s experience with license plate readers.

“Fremont has had surveillance cameras for a long time, and the crime rate there has increased in recent years. So when I’m told these cameras are going to bring the crime rate down, I’m a little more skeptical. That sounds good in theory. , but in practice, that’s not entirely accurate,” Bucci said.

“There were claims made at this meeting that almost guaranteed crime would go down, and I don’t believe that yet,” he said.

Bucci also asked that the contract with Flock be postponed until the city council could hold a public hearing to assess his police department’s policy regarding license plate readers. The current policy was written in 2011, Macias said, and governs how long police will retain license plate reader data, as well as which agencies can and cannot see the data.

Macias said that while the Flock system only retains camera data on its servers for 30 days, current police policy allows the city to retain data for one year.

“You’re asking us to invest in surveillance, and then I guess I can look at the policy later. And that’s really putting the cart before the horse,” Bucci said at the meeting.

But the majority of the board rejected Bucci and approved the contract.

“I don’t want the council, in my view, to discuss and debate internal police policies,” Hannon said. “That’s why we’re hiring you, chief,” he told police chief Gina Anderson.

Nagy said he believes in the integrity of the police department and that police will “do the right thing” with the data.

“If you have a license plate but you’re doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about. If you have a license plate and you’re doing something wrong, then you should be worried,” Nagy said.

In an interview, Bucci took issue with Nagy’s comment.

“I think history has proven that’s not entirely true, and it’s certainly not true for a number of underrepresented communities who may not necessarily agree with that. assertion,” he said.

“I don’t know why we need to store a year’s worth of data in and out of town on people like the mayor or anyone else who isn’t charged with anything,” he said. he declares.

Cameras could go up in late August or early September, Macias said. The police department tentatively plans to bring the license plate reader policy back to the council for review on September 8, she said.

The cameras will not go live until the policy is approved, Macias said.

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