Mike Katz-Lacabe

May 132016

Three stationary license plate cameras were recently installed on East Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Larkpur as part of a Regional Automated License Plate Regional Network (also called strategy and strategic plan) supported by the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) and funding from the Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative. The cameras record images of vehicles and license plates traveling in each direction along East Sir Francisco Drake Boulevard near the intersection with Larkspur Landing Circle.

The Central Marin Police Authority (CMPA) applied for the $132,553.96 Fiscal Year 2014 grant as part of a Regional Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) Plan. According to the application, “This project is intended to address the roving criminals and possible terrorist operating in the Bay Area…” In highlighting the large number of license plates that could be photographed, the application states, “This location has the potential of capturing and identifying at least 20 million license plates a year as a corridor between US Route 101 and Interstate 580…” However, in its ALPR Proposal slide deck, the Central Marin Police Authority noted that a CalTrans survey from 2010/2011 showed just 4,865,546 vehicles passing this location each day. This discrepancy is not explained in any of the available documents.

The grant application noted that an automated license plate reader trailer from the NCRIC was placed at 135 E. Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from June 17, 2011, to July 25, 2011. During that time, 22 stolen vehicles reportedly drove past the ALPR trailer.

A May 16, 2014, memo of the Bay Area UASI Advisory Group, stated, “During the February Advisory Group FY14 Regional Project vetting session, a Regional ALPR strategy was supported, however the majority felt the CPMA project was not optimal due to the location.” However, by May, the Advisory Group recommended that the project go forward: “The ALPR Focus Group is again making a recommendation that the Advisory Group consider allowing the UASI Management Team to direct the allocated FY14 funding to proceed with the CMPA ALPR project as the first step in building our Regional ALPR network.”

The Larkspur City Council unanimously approved funding for the purchase and installation of the three license plate readers at its meeting of December 17, 2014, without any public comment.

The data collected by the license plate readers will be stored in the NCRIC’s ALPR data warehouse for one year. NCRIC Director Mike Sena said in April 2015 that 46.5 million records were collected from agencies submitting data to its ALPR data warehouse. NCRIC currently collects license plate data from about 20 law enforcement agencies.

The cameras are visible in this Google Street Maps image from October 2015.

Photos of the installed cameras:

Three automated license plate readers on E. Sir Francisco Drake Blvd in Larkspur

Three automated license plate readers on E. Sir Francisco Drake Blvd in Larkspur

Closeup of three automated license plate readers on E. Sir Francisco Drake Blvd in Larkspur

Closeup of three automated license plate readers on E. Sir Francisco Drake Blvd in Larkspur

Source documents:


Apr 052016

The Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NRCIC), the fusion center for Northern California, has three trailers with automated license plate readers that it loans out to other agencies.

The trailers are intended to look like speed limit warning signs that prominently display the speed of passing cars but are equipped with cameras that capture images of vehicles passing in both directions.

Trailer used by NCRIC to capture license plate and vehicle images

Trailer used by NCRIC to capture license plate and vehicle images

The NCRIC is managed by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, which handles requests for the trailers. The trailer picture was deployed in front of Willard Middle School in Berkeley in October 2015 after a series of attempted kidnappings.

The trailers and their deployment by a covert equipment crew is described as follows in an email exchange with NCRIC (emphasis added):

NCRIC has [redacted] portable ALPR trailers that look like speed signs and function that way as well, they are solar powered but if they can be placed near an alternate power source they will of course last longer than the average 5 at period, bottom line I they are available but very often loaned out to other agencies for similar reasons that you require one. Once approval is obtained on your end please let Sean O’Donnell or I know and we can enter your request on the NCRIC website for this equipment on your behalf etc, just let us know we’re here to help: Once approval is obtained as you mentioned, we can easily facilitate the placement of ALPR trailers with our NCRIC covert equipment crew, no problem.

As of January 2016, NCRIC had three trailers, which are referred to as PIPS LPR Speed Trailer #1, PIPS LPR Speed Trailer #2, and PIPS LPR Speed Trailer #3.

Requests for the ALPR trailers are submitted via NCRIC’s web site and then sent via email to NCRIC with the subject “NCHIDTA Equipment Request.” NCHIDTA is the abbreviation for Northern California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which is also managed by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.

Agency Date of Request Requested For
San Francisco Police June 16, 2015 Five days beginning on June 25, 2015
National Park Service June 17, 2015 One month beginning on June 24, 2015
Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office August 5, 2015 One week beginning on August 5, 2015
San Mateo Police Department September 1, 2015 As soon as possible for unknown period of time
Burlingame Police Department November 3, 2015 Two days beginning on December 16, 2015
San Bruno Police Department November 4, 2015 One week beginning on November 5, 2015
San Mateo County Sheriff November 5, 2015 One week beginning on November 10, 2015
Burlingame Police Department November 6, 2015 Five days beginning on November 23, 2015
San Mateo County Sheriff December 16, 2015 One to two weeks beginning on December 21, 2015

However, the information released by NCRIC did not include any information as to whether an ALPR trailer was actually deployed. For example, the National Park Service requested an ALPR trailer, but it was never deployed.

Technical Details

The trailer can operate on battery power for up to 5 days and takes 24 hours to full recharge. There are four cameras in two housings that can capture images of vehicles and license plates coming towards the trailer and going away from the trailer. The cameras are manufactured by PIPS Technologies, which is now owned by 3M. The cameras are surrounded by infrared LEDs that operate in the infrared spectrum at 950nm 3M_P634-Camera. A Garmin GPS is used to provide the geographic location data (latitude and longitude) that is stored with each of the images captured by the cameras. The data is uploaded via a cellular data connection to the NCRIC’s ALPR data warehouse, which had 46.5 million records as of April 2015 (see Who’s watching who?: License plate readers used throughout San Mateo County).

Source documents:

Emails between NCRIC and law enforcement agencies

Mar 232016

Documents show all 11 police officers at the scene “forgot” to activate their body cameras

On November 12, 2015, two Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies were captured on surveillance video beating a suspect in San Francisco. The video was provided to the San Francisco Public Defender, which published the video on YouTube on November 13, 2015:

The two deputies shown in the video, Paul Wieber, and Luis Santamaria, wrote up their descriptions of the incident four days after arresting the suspect, later identified as Stanislav Petrov. Other deputies, including Shawn Osborne, William Adams, John Malizia, Joshua Miller, Marc PetriniThomas Sterling, and David Taylor, wrote up their incident reports on the same day.

On November 16, 2015, I filed a request for the arrest report, booking photograph and any body camera video from the arrest. In a response dated November 19, 2015, the Alameda County Sheriff denied my request, stating “Your request is denied per California Government Code sections 6254(f).” On February 15, 2016, I filed a second request for the booking photograph and incident report. In its response dated March 18, 2016, the Alameda County County Sheriff’s Office provided the incident report, but not a booking photograph.

In his write-up, Wieber states that after he tackled Petrov, “Petrov used his arms and shoulders to attempt to push himself up from the ground. I felt my entire body rise and I continued to slide forward. Failing to maintain control of Petrov, I punched him approximately two times in the right side of his face to subdue him.” The video, however, appears to show Petrov in a passive and prone position, with Wieber punching him twice, quickly followed by Santamaria striking Petrov at least five times with a baton.

Other deputies corroborated the story line that Petrov resisted arrest. Matthew Skidgel’s report states “Petrov resisted the efforts put forth by the patrol Deputies to affect his arrest and force was used to overcome his resistance.” Joshua Miller’s report stated that he saw “…Deputies SantaMaria and Wieber fighting with Petrov as he was violently pushing his body from side to side and moving his arms around as though he was trying to hit the officers.” Miller also struck Petrov with his baton. David Taylor’s report noted, “Petrov was bleeding from his head and he complained of pain to his head and hands.” There were no other observations of Petrov’s injuries. More than a week after his arrest, Petrov remained in the hospital and had metal rods and plates inserted into his arms.

Santamaria’s description of the incident closely mirrors that of Wieber, “As Deputy Wieber stood up, Petrov started to get up. Fearing that Petrov was going to assault Deputy Wieber, I removed my collapsible baton. I struck Petrov several times on his upper left arm to gain his compliance.” The description concludes, “As the Deputies arrived I was so fatigued I stepped away and let them secure Petrov. After the encounter I was exhausted and dizzy. I felt as if I were going to vomit from overexerting myself during the struggle with Petrov. As a result of the altercation I sustained an injury to my left exterior bicep.”

Wieber describes his own physical condition using nearly the same language as Santamaria, “I was physically exhausted and began to feel dizzy from over exertion.”

As a result of injuries caused by baton blows and punches, Petrov was transported to San Francisco General Hospital and surgery was performed. In his report, Darrin Shelton stated that Petrov was spitting blood, so he stepped on Petrov’s left shoulder blade to prevent him from spitting blood on any of the deputies. Shelton observed that Petrov had broken fingers on his left hand and head and facial lacerations. Robert Griffith noted, “Petrov appeared to have been bleeding from his head.”

Two of the other officers noted Petrov’s driving skills in their reports. Santamaria stated, “I noticed Petrov displaying driving skills and techniques that area [sic] taught to us in the police academy and during in-service training.” Taylor reported “As I observed the suspect’s vehicle during the pursuit, I was struck by his skillful driving and what I could only speculate was a level of extreme confidence and/or desperation…I believe the suspect was likely a sophisticated threat.”

None of the 11 deputies involved remembered to activate their Vievu body cameras:

I checked with Deputies Miller, Osborne, Griffith, Sterling, Petrini, Shelton, Malizia, Nguyen, Cota, Wieber and SantaMaria. I also checked with Sergeant Adams and Sergeant Taylor. None of these individuals had activated their Vie-Vu cameras during the incident.

Neither Wieber nor Santamaria noted any injuries to Petrov in their incident reports.

On February 12, 2016, the Contra Costa Times reported that the Alameda County District Attorney said that Petrov would not be charged.

Incident reports (Source documents):

Subsequent news coverage:
Document shows Alameda Co. Sheriff’s report on beating, KTVU
Alameda County sheriff’s deputies detail what led to chase, beating, Contra Costa Times
Adachi Accuses Deputies Allegedly Involved In Brutal Suspect Beating Of Cover Up, CBS SF
Deputies in SF beating video say they feared for their safety, SFGate
Public Defender: Deputies Involved in Beating Lied; Must Be Charged, SF Weekly
S.F. Public Defender: Alameda Deputies’ Reports on Violent S.F. Arrest a ‘Legal Fiction’
Fired Alameda County Deputies Will Stand Trial for S.F. Alley Beating

Edited to add: On May 10, 2016, Luis Santamaria and Paul Wieber were charged with assault under color of authority, battery with serious bodily injury and assault with a deadly weapon.

News coverage of the charges:
Alameda County Deputies Face Criminal Charges in Suspect’s Beating, KQED
California deputies charged in beating captured on video, CBS News

Dec 062015

As part of an effort to identify a suspect in kidnapping attempts near Willard Middle School in Berkeley, the Berkeley Police Department borrowed an automated license plate reader (ALPR) from the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), the local fusion center.

The ALPR is part of a trailer that at first appears to be just a sign to get drivers to slow down. The ALPR consists of cameras facing cars driving towards and away from the trailer. The trailer uses Willard Middle School to power the license plate cameras and signs, using an electrical power cord that extends from the trailer to the school.

Berkeley Police Detective Scott Castle contacted the fusion center on October 20, two days after two reported kidnapping attempts near the middle school to request the mobile ALPR. See Berkeleyside for more coverage.

The license plate reader consists of four cameras, two in each direction. One camera captures an image of the license plate that is suitable for a computer to process into a format that the computer can recognize. The other camera captures an image of the vehicle and possibly the occupant(s) of the vehicle. The license plate readers appear to be 3M Mobile ALPR cameras. The trailer submits the captured images, which include a date/time stamp and geographic location information from a Garmin GPS, to a data warehouse maintained by the NCRIC fusion center. The NCRIC fusion center collects similar data from more than a dozen local law enforcement agencies and makes it available to dozens of local law enforcement agencies, plus the IRS, the US Air Force, UC San Francisco, DMV, FBI, DHS, Stanford University, and others.

The NCRIC retains all of the data collected, including the vehicle images, for at least a year, but may retain it for longer if the data is part of an investigation.

Trailer used by NCRIC to capture license plate and vehicle images

Trailer used by NCRIC to capture license plate and vehicle images

3M Mobile ALPR camera in NCRIC mobile trailer

3M Mobile ALPR camera used to capture images of license plates and vehicles.

NCRIC mobile ALPR trailer cables

Cables attached to the NCRIC mobile ALPR trailer

Sep 072015

In 2013, the City of Piedmont, California, spent almost $600,000 to purchase 39 license plate readers covering most of its border with Oakland. With a population of less than 11,000 people, these 39 license plate readers collect photographs and license plates from more than 1,000,000 vehicles every month. The City of Piedmont sends this data to a regional license plate data warehouse at the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), where it is stored for one year, even if the data does not generate a “hit” as a stolen vehicle, being registered to a wanted individual, etc.

The City of Oakland, with a population of more than 400,000 people, took three years to gather 4.6 million license plate reads and photographs (see We know where you’ve been: Ars acquires 4.6M license plate scans from the cops). In Piedmont, that same amount of data would be collected in less than 5 months.

Using the information gathered by Oakland’s license plate readers, Ars Technica was able to determine where Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb worked and lived with his vehicle captured just 51 times between May 2012 and May 2014. Data from license plate readers could reveal churchgoing habits, whether you visit a medical marijuana dispensary or a health clinic, and whether you spend the night with someone other than your spouse.

Until June 2014, NCRIC generated a report on total license plate reads submitted to it by each agency. Combined with the number of hits reported by the Piedmont Police Department, this data shows that 99.97% of the data collected by Piedmont’s license plate readers is useless – it is data collected about people who are not charged with or suspected of any crime. For example, in April 2014, Piedmont submitted 1,420,244 license plate reads and photographs to NCRIC and only generated 400 hits. That is a hit rate of 0.00028 or 0.028 percent. Below is a table showing this information from December 2013 to June 2014:

Month Total reads Hits Percentage
12/2013 1272871 532 0.042
1/2014 1201196 374 0.031
2/2014 1025771 276 0.027
3/2014 1189422 323 0.027
4/2014 1420244 400 0.028
5/2014 1462313 465 0.032
6/2014 1213121 391 0.032


Source documents:


Sep 012015

According to documents from the California Highway Patrol (CHP), it has purchased 216 Vigilant Video license plate readers between June 2011 and April 2015. In addition, an undated document on automated license plate reader statistics indicates that there were 86,899 alerts for 27,545,659 license plate reads, a hit percentage of 0.3%. In other words, 99.7% of the data gathered by the CHP’s license plate readers was essentially mass surveillance on people not suspected of or charged with a crime.

The license plate readers were purchased using homeland security funds in batches of 120 on June 30, 2011, 73 on February 13, 2012, and 23 on March 9, 2012. The bid specifications are dated June 27, 2011, and the contract was from February 6, 2012, to February 5, 2015. The total cost of the license plate readers was just over $2 million ($2,050,644.01).

Section 2413(b) of the California Vehicle Code states, “The Department of the California Highway Patrol may retain license plate data captured by a license plate reader (LPR) for no more than 60 days, except in circumstances when the data is being used as evidence or for all felonies being investigated, including, but not limited to, auto theft, homicides, kidnaping, burglaries, elder and juvenile abductions, Amber Alerts, and Blue Alerts.”

Here are some photos of the Vigilant Video license plate readers mounted on a CHP Ford Explorer:


CHP Ford Explorer with Vigilant Video license plate readers


CHP Ford Explorer with Vigilant Video license plate readers


Top view of Vigilant Video license plate reader mounted on CHP Ford Explorer.

Source documents:

Aug 262015

California Vehicle Code 21455.5 (i) requires “A manufacturer or supplier that operates an automated traffic enforcement system” to submit an annual report to the Judicial Council. Below are reports from RedFlex, for the 43 California cities in which their red light cameras are deployed.

  1. Bakersfield
  2. Baldwin Park
  3. Beverly Hills
  4. Citrus Heights
  5. Commerce
  6. Culver City
  7. Daly City
  8. Del Mar
  9. Elk Grove
  10. Encinitas
  11. Fremont
  12. Garden Grove
  13. Hawthorne
  14. Highland
  15. Inglewood
  16. Laguna Woods
  17. Los Alamitos
  18. Lynwood
  19. Marysville
  20. Menlo Park
  21. Modesto
  22. Montebello
  23. Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA)
  24. Napa
  25. Newark
  26. Oakland
  27. Oceanside
  28. Oxnard
  29. Rancho Cordova
  30. Redding
  31. Riverside
  32. Sacramento
  33. San Leandro
  34. San Mateo
  35. San Rafael
  36. Santa Ana
  37. Santa Clarita
  38. Solana Beach
  39. Stockton
  40. Ventura
  41. Victorville
  42. Vista
  43. Walnut


Aug 012015

In a letter dated July 28, 2015, the FBI said it could neither confirm nor deny that it has contract J-FBI-09-211, which has to do with “Landshark” restricted software used with the Harris StingRay. This document is referenced in FBI letters to Harris Corporation in which the FBI notifies Harris of its approval of a law enforcement agency’s non-disclosure agreement. This non-disclosure agreement is required before the law enforcement agency can purchase a cell site simulator such as a StingRay, KingFish, or HailStorm from Harris Corporation.

The letter from the FBI states,

Please be advised that upon reviewing the substantive nature of your request, we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records responsive to your request pursuant to FOIA exemption (b) (7) (E) [5 U.S.C.§552 (b)(7)(E)]. The mere acknowledgment of whether or not the FBI has any such records in and of itself would disclose techniques, procedures, and/or guidelines that could reasonably be expected to risk of circumvention of the law. Thus, the FBI neither confirms nor denies the existence of any records.

Contract J-FBI-09-211 is referenced in the following documents:

Jul 202015

On June 18, 2015, ShotSpotter issued a press release announcing the installation of its SecureCampus product at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, California. The contract was signed on December 16, 2014, by Bryan Richards, the Chief Business Official for the Newark Unified School District. Since the contract doesn’t cost anything in its first year (although the contract values it at $110,389), it did not go before the Newark School Board for approval, which means that the community and staff have not had an opportunity to discuss the privacy implications of the 35 microphones already installed throughout the campus.

The proposed locations of the 35 sensors/microphones are shown in the ShotSpotter proposal dated March 17, 2014:


Although Newark police Cmdr. Michael Carroll was quoted in a June 18, 2015, Bay Area Newspaper Group article stating that that ShotSpotter “doesn’t record conversations because they aren’t loud enough to trigger a recording,” that claim has proven to be false. ShotSpotter microphones recorded human voices in Oakland, California, in 2007 and New Bedford, Connecticut, in 2012 that were introduced as evidence in criminal cases.

In an August 19, 2014, email from ShotSpotter’s Charley Daly to members of the Newark Police Department, Newark police officer Vincent Kimbrough is given credit for bringing the Newark Unified School District to ShotSpotter: “Charley Daly here and I remember when you came through with the Newark School District folks also. I will give you a call tomorrow and set up a time when we can get together to discuss Newpark Mall.”


March 17, 2014, ShotSpotter proposal to Newark Unified School District

December 16, 2014, ShotSpotter agreement with Newark Unified School District

Emails between ShotSpotter and Newark Police Department – part 1

Emails between ShotSpotter and Newark Police Department – part 2

Emails between ShotSpotter and Newark Police Department – part 3

Jun 182015

In a letter dated June 8, 2015, the FBI responded to my request for a copy of the April 6, 2010, agreement between the FBI an Harris Corporation. This April 6, 2010, agreement is referenced in the approval of law enforcement agency’s non-disclosure agreements that are required before the law enforcement agency can purchase a cell site simulator such as a StingRay, KingFish, or HailStorm from Harris Corporation.

The letter from the FBI states,

Please be advised that upon reviewing the substantive nature of your request, we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records responsive to your request pursuant to FOIA exemption (b) (7) (E) [5 U.S.C.§552 (b)(7)(E)]. The mere acknowledgment of whether or not the FBI has any such records in and of itself would disclose techniques, procedures, and/or guidelines that could reasonably be expected to risk of circumvention of the law. Thus, the FBI neither confirms nor denies the existence of any records.

However, although the FBI will neither confirm nor deny the existence of the April 6, 2010, agreement, it is referenced in letters from the FBI to Harris Corporation dated June 14, 2012 and February 13, 2013. This refusal to confirm or deny the existence of a document or specific information is known as a Glomar response, named for the Central Intelligence Agency’s response to a FOIA request about its Global Marine front company and its attempt to salvage a Soviet submarine. A portion of the text from both letters states,

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has an approved non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in place with the captioned law enforcement agency. In accordance with the cited restricted software agreement and the April 6, 2010 agreement between the FBI and the Harris Corporation, your notification to the FBI of the agency’s intent to purchase, and our execution of the NDA, meets the FBI’s advance coordination requirement. Therefore, the Harris Corporation is permitted to sell the state-and-local version of the Stingray product with the restricted software to the…