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Automated License Plate Reader Discussion to Continue

Mark Irons, of Alameda, protects his privacy by shielding his face from being photographed. (Action Alameda News)

Mark Irons, of Alameda, protects his privacy by shielding his face from being photographed, at the ALPR forum. (Action Alameda News)

About the only thing clearly resolved from Monday night’s Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) forum hosted by the City of Alameda, is to keep discussing the matter.

To their credit, city organizers structured a mercifully snappy meeting, allowing Alameda Police Chief Paul Rolleri, Brian Rodriques, IT Director for the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), and Matt Cagle, an attorney with the Northern California American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) office, just five minutes to present their position or concerns regarding a proposal to deploy the technology in Alameda.

Panel participants were allowed just a two minute rebuttal, if they chose to do so, and Assistant City Manager Alex Nguyen quickly snaked through the 30-some odd audience members, inviting comment or questions for the panel.

Audience reaction to the plan, and the draft policy, ran from hostility (“We don’t trust you!”) to support (“I know from personal experience this will help the police”) to resignation that the technology will inevitably be deployed (“Will the audit reports be a public record?”)

A chief concern for privacy advocates is the ongoing retention of the data, at the NCRIC, collected through the license plate scans, particularly for those scans of vehicle not suspected of being involved in a crime. The current draft policy document says that records will be retained for one year.

Brian Rodriques and Chief Rolleri said that data retention at the NCRIC would cost the City of Alameda nothing, as the crime fusion center is funded with federal dollars. The police department also hopes to fund acquisition of the technology with federal grant money.

Law enforcement representatives insisted the readers are an important tool to solving crimes, and worked to bolster their case with anecdotes of crimes solved with the help of ALPR data; ahead of the meeting, Mr. Cagle had sent a twelve-page letter with comments on the police department’s draft policy, saying that, as currently drafted, it leaves many important issues unaddressed.

Chief Rolleri insisted that the draft policy document presented was just that, a draft, and said that there would be continued public discussion, and that he would review the ACLU letter.

After the meeting, Rolleri told Action Alameda News, “I was really pleased. I thought that the forum went really well, that the people had a chance to speak beyond the 3 minutes that confine folks at city council meetings. I do believe that this whole thing is a work in progress. The draft policy was never intended to go out as the final document. So I’m hoping that this was just the beginning of several discussions and that we can draft a policy that even if everybody doesn’t love it, that they’ll be comfortable with it.”

No date has been published yet for the next public opportunity to weigh in the policy.

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