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Alameda Police Seek Automated License Plate Reader Technology

alprAlameda City Manager John Russo is hoping to secure, at the October 1st City Council meeting, that body’s approval to seek grant funding and ultimately purchase Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) technology for the Alameda Police Department.

The move comes in the context of an ongoing series of revelations about the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance activities, which including tracking telephone calls and Internet activity, and in the wake of recent controversies over the technology in other Bay area jurisdictions.

Such systems typically record a picture of the vehicle license plate, a broader contextual image, the location of the vehicle by BPS coordinates and time and date of image capture, creating a database from which a single vehicles movement could be pieced together and traced.

Earlier this year, the Center for Investigative Reporting reported on privacy concerns raised in nearby San Leandro, after that city implemented squad-car mounted readers.

Likewise, the town of Tiburon raised hackles in 2009 with plans to install stationary readers to track vehicles moving in and out of town, in an attempt to reduce crime.

Just last week, Alameda County District Attorney and Alameda resident Nancy O’Malley was taken to task by local journalist Steven Tavares for speaking, in her own name, against a planned In-N-Out Burger for the west end, on a site nearby the Webster and Posey Tubes. Tavares reported that O’Malley’s critics say her opposition, and concerns about the spillover of crime from Oakland, are rooted in a “racist subtext.”

Russo’s report (Russo was also quoted in Tavares’ article) notes that ALPR systems can be either vehicle mounted, or fixed in a single location, but gives no indication of a preference on the part of the Alameda Police Department, or whether or not a system would be used to track vehicles transiting between Oakland and Alameda via the five access points in place today, in the manner adopted by Tiburon. However, Russo does note that Alameda police are currently field testing a vehicle mounted system.

The report describes ALPR technology as a “significant tool in the arsenal of law enforcement and public safety agencies” and notes that Alameda would likely connect with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) which works vertically across government agencies “with the collection, analysis, and dissemination of criminal threat information.” The technology would be used also to identify vehicles reported stolen.

The Alameda Police Department hopes to receive a Department of Homeland Security grant to buy the technology which starts at $16,000 for a mobile system and $7,500 plus installation for a stationary system. The grant application process would kick off in November of this year.

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