License plate readers go live at Carlsbad intersections

License plate readers go live at Carlsbad intersections
A number of license plate readers at the intersection of Palomar Airport Road and Paseo Del Norte went into service on Dec. 20. Photo by Steve Puterski

CARLSBAD — Approved on the promise of improved public safety, the city went live with 51 license plate recognition cameras at 14 locations on Dec. 20.

The Carlsbad Police Department touted the early success of the readers on social media recently noting two stolen cars were recovered netting three arrests in the first days the cameras were active. Additionally, a third stolen vehicle evaded police during a chase from Carlsbad Village into Oceanside where the alleged thief went against traffic to evade officers.

“After hearing about the technology and what it can bring to the table to help improve public safety and public welfare, I was just all for it,” resident Dan Weis said. “If it reduces crime in any manner, I’m all for it.”

It is a hot button issue in the city as many people were against the cameras during a March 2017 City Council meeting citing privacy, housing of the data and access to and protection of the information as concerns.

The cameras cost $807,025 to purchase and San Diego ARJIS will store the data from the cameras, which were purchased from Vigilant Solutions.

Proponents, meanwhile, note increasing safety, lowering crime rates and the trickle effect the cameras have in helping not just the Carlsbad Police Department, but neighboring agencies to apprehend criminals.

During the March City Council meeting, the staff report stated an increase in property crime such as residential burglaries, auto thefts and thefts from vehicles as a reason to enact the cameras. When a camera identifies a vehicle, the police will be notified immediately. The report stated those living outside Carlsbad’s borders commit a majority of property crimes.

Still, resident Jeff Lee, who works in IT at a pharmaceutical company and deals with cybersecurity, is staunchly against the cameras. He said the “Big Brother” effect may come into play, stating he is against any government tracking and using safety as a measure to usurp privacy.

When he questioned the Carlsbad Police Department, he said he was pointed to the city policy, which he called vague as to its applications and definitions.

“It feels like we, as a society, are willing to give up everything for some modicum of what we think is safety,” Lee said. “The policy is so vague it’s absurd. What qualifies as legitimate law enforcement? Is it monitoring car thieves or is it looking at license plates of people who maybe are activists and you are concerned they are coming into your city. I work in IT at a publicly traded company and I couldn’t get around a policy that vague.”

Dan Weis, meanwhile, wholly supports the cameras saying if they even drop crime a little, the investment is worth it. Unlike Lee, Weis said he is not concerned about privacy because he has “nothing to hide.”

Additionally, he’s not worried the Carlsbad Police Department will use the cameras to peer into vehicles, which it said it will not do. The only catch, however, is if a camera is at an intersection with a slope, then a driver or passenger’s face may be recorded.

The staff report states San Diego ARJIS will house the data for just one year and then scrub it, unless specific data is required for an ongoing law enforcement activities.

“A lot of folks think it’s invasion of privacy, they’ll have facial recognition and people are being tracked,” Weis said. “On the first day they caught three bad guys in stolen cars. To think about what the long-term effect is going to be, I’m very supportive of it.”

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