Aug 162020
 

San Ramon, a small city in Contra Costa County with a very low crime rate, approved spending more than $1.2 million to blanket the city in automated license plate readers (ALPRs) and surveillance cameras at its April 28, 2020, meeting.

The amount includes 12 stationary ALPRs at five locations from Vigilant Solutions, 35 ALPRs from Flock Safety and 46 Avigilon surveillance cameras. Eight police vehicles are already equipped with Vigilant ALPRs and Flock Safety cameras are already installed at the intersection of Camino Ramon and Crow Canyon and the northeast intersection of Crow Canyon Boulevard and Crow Canyon Place.

Map of proposed Flock Safety camera locations in San Ramon.
Purple icons represent proposed locations of Flock Safety ALPRs in San Ramon.

According to a presentation by San Ramon Police Lieutenant Cary Goldberg on April 28, 2020, the surveillance cameras would offer “coverage on every route of ingress/egress,” “184 viewing angles throughout out the city” and vehicles would likely pass “multiple cameras when travelling [sic] in San Ramon.”

Map of proposed locations for surveillance cameras in San Ramon.
The video camera icon indicates the proposed locations of surveillance cameras in San Ramon.

Goldberg said that data from Flock Safety cameras can be searched for animals and “If the camera detects an animal in the car, it will bring up that particular picture of the vehicle if it, in fact, captured it.” The data can also be searched for bicycles and people. “If it detects a person in a car, it’s going to show you an image of that person.” Goldberg said the locations were chosen so “we can capture all our routes of ingress, coupled with the situational [surveillance] cameras so we have a virtual fence around the city.”

During the presentation, Goldberg showed an image captured by a Flock Safety ALPR at Crow Canyon Place at Crow Canyon Road of a Honda Odyssey van with its California license plate clearly visible. Another image from the same location at night provided the license plate of a Ford pickup and the fact that the license plate had been seen 13 of the last 26 days (indicating that it was likely driven by a resident of San Ramon). We have redacted the license plate numbers in the presentation produced in response to our public records request.

Each of the Avigilon surveillance cameras actually has four cameras to provide 360-degree coverage. In addition to recording video 24×7, “The officers also have the ability to watch this live. Let’s say if we had an event, we had a protest, whatever the case is, the officers would have the ability to log in to one of these through the software and watch these live, watch any number of these cameras live.” According to Goldberg, a vehicle can be tagged and the software can display any video captured of that vehicle without searching individual camera footage. The software can also generate alerts for unusual motion detection, such as a car crash, according to Goldberg.

Proposed locations for the Vigilant Solutions ALPRs include Dougherty Road, the intersection of Camino Tassajara and Windermere Parkway, Crow Canyon Road, and the intersection of Alcosta Blvd and San Ramon Rd. [Note: The slide describing the Vigilant ALPRs showed an image of 3M ALPRs.]

Data Retention

The presentation to the San Ramon City Council said that the data collected by Vigilant Systems ALPRs would be retained for two years. Data from the Flock Safety ALPRs would be retained for 30 days. Data collected by the Avigilon surveillance cameras would be retained for 30 days. The San Ramon Police Department policy for license plate readers only states that the data will be retained for a minimum of one year. The police didn’t explain the difference in retention periods or the conflict with the existing policy and the City Council didn’t ask. When we asked Lt. Goldberg about why images from the surveillance cameras and Flock license plate readers were retained for 30 days while data captured by Vigilant Solutions license plate readers is retained for two years, he responded (but didn’t explain), “we have continuously maintained a 2 year retention period for the images uploaded into the LEARN [Vigilant Solutions] database.”

San Ramon Councilmember Phil O’Loane raised the only objection, based on the cost of the project, which was nearly double what he was expecting. O’Loane said, “My understanding of where we were starting was stationary license plate readers at key intersections and such and we’ve gone to something between zero and the City of London” noting that San Ramon has one of the lowest crime rates in the state. “I thought we were going to spend six or seven hundred thousand dollars and we’re doubling that. There’s been significant scope creep on this.” “We’ve got the same crime rate we’ve had since I was on the Council on average.” In fact, San Ramon’s crime rate is not only low but has declined significantly in the past 30 years.

The figure below is based on data reported by the San Ramon Police Department to the FBI and represents the annual crime rate per 100,000 people from 1985 to 2018.

Documents:

May 162020
 

According to a $60,000 grant the Novato Police Department recently received from the Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative, new automated license plate readers (ALPRs) will be installed on Highway 37 to track terrorists.

However, no suspected terrorists have been tracked or identified with Novato’s existing ALPRs, which have been in use since 2012. We asked Novato City Manager Adam McGill for information on how many suspected terrorists had been detected or tracked with Novato’s existing ALPRs. McGill forwarded the request to Novato Police Lieutenant Christopher Jacob, who responded, “According to our records, we have not detected any hot plates related to or associated with terrorism.”

The grant application, filed in September 2019, claims that “License plates captured and identified by ALPR can alert authorities to wanted vehicles associated with suspected terrorists…”

“This project will install a 4 camera ALPR system on a preexisting CalTrans traffic operations pole located along the southern edge of US Hwy 37. This route connects US Hwy 101 to US Hwy 80 and serves as the primary route of travel into and between Marin, Sonoma and Solano counties. This location, according to recent CalTrans vehicle census information, has the potential of capturing and identifying no less than 12.7 million license plates a year.”

According to the FY 2016/2017 Proposed Budget and the 2016 Novato Police Annual Report, the existing ALPRs captured 1,195,272 images of vehicles and license plates in 2015 and 1,204,854 in 2016. With an estimated 2018 population of 55,655, that’s more than 26 license plate reads each year for each Novato resident. With an additional 12.7 million license plate reads per year, that would increase to more than 249 license plate reader each year per Novato resident. According to the Novato Police Department policy for ALPRs, the data collected is stored for a minimum of one year.

The 2012 Novato Police Annual Report states that the department received a $20,000 Homeland Security grant for mobile ALPRs to “identify, track and report wanted terrorist suspects and locate other wanted suspects identified by the Department of Justice.” ALPRs were installed on five police vehicles in 2012 and by 2014, an additional police vehicle had ALPRs installed. A mobile ALPR trailer funded by a $36,583.75 grant from the California State Homeland Security Grant Program was added in 2014.

Documents:

Mar 302020
 

The Vallejo Police Department cited ferry terrorism as part of its $30,000 grant application for license plate readers, calling the ferry “a viable threat for a terrorist act.”

According to the grant application, the “Grant Funds will be utilized to establish an ALPR [Automated License Plate Reader] camera system for eastbound and westbound traffic lanes approaching the Ferry Terminal, Ferry Terminal Parking Structure and waterfront.”

Two 3M ALPRs on Glen Cove Road in VallejoThe Vallejo Police Department already has a network of license plate readers in locations around the city. Two of Vallejo’s ALPRs can be found on a pole on the west side of Glen Cove Road, at the Vallejo city line just south of Interstate 780. Two ALPRs are located in front of 4325 Sonoma Boulevard and two ALPRs are located on southbound Fairgrounds Drive at Gateway Drive. The six stationary ALPRs were installed in 2015, along with ALPRs on five police vehicles.

According to information provided to the California State Auditor, 102 of the police department’s 150 employees have access to license plate reader data. The Vallejo Police Department’s ALPRs send the collected images and data to the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), which retains them for one year and makes it available to dozens of other agencies. In the six months from July 2019 to December 2019, Vallejo sent more than 5 million images collected from its ALPRs to NCRIC.

Vallejo Detective Lieutenant Fabian Rodriguez was listed as the applicant for the grant for the project, which was expected to begin on November 1, 2020 and completed by May 1, 2021.

The regional benefit was described as:

ALPR Cameras to Strengthen Information Sharing and Collaboration of data from Vallejo Ferry Terminal. The Ferry Terminal provides daily commuter transportation from Solano County to San Francisco, with commuters from Napa utilizing the ferry for daily transportation to the Bay Area.

The terrorism nexus was described as:

With thousands of commuters utilizing the Vallejo Ferry system each day to travel to San Francisco, the Ferry is a viable threat for a terrorist act. Installing an ALPR camera system in the area of the Ferry Terminal will assist with identifying potentially wanted terrorist suspect vehicles.

On March 12, 2020, the Bay Area UASI Approval Authority approved a $30,000 grant to the Vallejo Police Department for its “Vallejo PD ALPR” project. When we requested a copy of the grant application, the Vallejo Police Department responded that it has “no responsive documents.” The grant application was disclosed pursuant to a public records request to the Bay Area UASI.

Documents:

Jun 112019
 

According to information released in response to a public records request, the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center collected more than 79.2 million license plate reader records from 32 local law enforcement agencies from June 2018 to May 2019.

Piedmont, a city with about 11,000 people, sent the most data to NCRIC, with more than 22.4 million license plate reader records, which include license plate numbers and photographs of vehicles and their surroundings. Piedmont has more than 30 stationary license plate readers that capture nearly all traffic coming into and out of Piedmont.

In calendar year 2018, Piedmont collected 21.6 million records from its license plate readers and reported 8,120 hits, when a record from a license plate reader matched a list of license plates that includes stolen vehicles, stolen license plates, wanted persons, etc. Using that information, 99.96% of the data collected by Piedmont’s license plate readers is from people who are not suspected of are charged with any crime. That closely matches a similar analysis in 2014 that showed 99.97% of the data collected from Piedmont’s license plate readers did not generate a hit.

Fremont, a city with about 230,000 people, sent 17.7 million records to NCRIC and Vallejo, a city of 120,000 people, sent 15.8 million records to NCRIC.

Other agencies sending more than a million records to the NCRIC each year include the Central Marin Police Authority (Larkspur, San Anselmo and Corte Madera), Daly City, San Francisco, Modesto, Alameda County Sheriff, San Leandro, and South San Francisco.

Other law enforcement agencies use license plate readers from Vigilant Solutions, a private company that collects data from law enforcement agencies and private companies. Data from 2017 indicates that Bay Area agencies in Danville sent 33.4 million license plate records to Vigilant, Pittsburg sent 31.4 million records, Brentwood sent 12.9 million records, and Alameda and Novato each sent 1.6 million records.

Sources:

Jun 102018
 

3M P492 license plate readers on Fremont Bouldvard at Enea Terrace

License plate readers on Northbound Fremont Boulevard

According to data from the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), the city of Fremont collected 14.5 million license plates and photos from license plate readers located throughout the city from December 2016 to October 2017.

The installation of stationary license plate readers was approved by the Fremont City Council on July 14, 2015, without any public comment or discussion during the meeting.

Of the 28 jurisdictions sending license plate reader data to NCRIC, Fremont collects the third-highest amount of data, behind Vallejo (21.7 million) and Piedmont (21.3 million). NCRIC is a regional fusion center that provides a license plate database where agencies can send their collected data. Other agencies, including the IRS, Department of Homeland Security, FBI, National Park Service, California Department of Insurance and others can access this database and search for license plate data.

The license plate reader on westbound Stevenson Boulevard near the entrance to northbound Interstate 880 generates the most data, collecting an average of 14,736 license plates and photographs each day during October 2017.

Although similar statistics are not available for Fremont, analysis of license plate reader data from other jurisdictions has found that 99.7% of the data collected by license plate readers is of people not suspected of or charged with any crime. For Fremont, that means 14,519,834 of the 14,563,525 photos and license plates collected during an 11-month period was of innocent people.

Click here for a map showing license plate reader locations and links to Google Street View images:

Eastbound Auto Mall Parkway at Christy (1): Google Street View

Westbound Mowry Avenue at entrance to Northbound 880 (1): Google Street View

Westbound Decoto Road at entrance to Northbound 880 (1): Google Street View

Southbound Ardenwood Boulevard to Westbound 84 (1): Google Street View

Westbound Stevenson Boulevard at entrance to Northbound 880 (1): Google Street View

Northbound Mission Boulevard at Washington Blvd (1): Google Street View

Southbound Mission Boulevard at Paseo Padre Parkway (2): Google Street View

Northbound Fremont Boulevard at Enea Terrace (2): Google Street View

Camera operated by Pacific Commons Shopping Center at Northbound Christy Street south of Auto Mall Parkway (1): Google Street View

Source documents:

NCRIC ALPR data from December 2016 to October 2017
NCRIC ALPR data from October 2017 to July 2018

Nov 222017
 

The Center for Human Rights and Privacy recently discovered that the Alameda County Sheriff installed a license plate reader at the entrance to Highland Hospital’s emergency room. The information was included in a list of 29 agencies that submit license plate reader to the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), a local joint fusion center.

However, when the East Bay Times asked about its license plate readers in February 2017, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office reported that it had about six license plate readers, mounted to patrol cars and didn’t mention the license plate reader at Highland Hospital.

Although the license plate reader was installed as part of an Alameda County General Services Agency project, it appears that the Alameda County Sheriff configured the license plate reader to send its images and data to NCRIC. The Alameda County Sheriff signed a Memorandum of Understanding with NCRIC in October 2014 regarding license plate reader data. According to NCRIC, the Alameda County General Services Agency did not have a MOU with NCRIC as of November 20, 2017.

The license plate reader has two cameras to capture images of vehicles and license plates as vehicles enter the emergency room drop-off area of Highland Hospital from E. 31st Street.

According to information from NCRIC, the license plate reader captured data from 293,148 vehicles from December 2016 to October 2017. Earlier data was not available. Once the information is submitted to NCRIC, it is made available to dozens of agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which can use it to identify undocumented immigrants for deportation.

The license plate reader was installed as part of a project to replace the Acute Tower at Highland Hospital in 2014. According to a change order for the project, installation of the license plate reader cost $74,622. The license plate reader is from 3M and was previously known as the SpikeHD P382.

In addition to the photos below, the license plate reader can be seen in Google’s Street View.

Alameda Co. Sheriff license plate reader at Highland Hospital

 

Closeup of Alameda Co Sheriff license plate reader at Highland Hospital in Oakland

Coverage in the East Bay Express: Highland Hospital Surveillance Stirs Concerns

Aug 052017
 

With a nod to Terminator’s self-aware computer network, the Solano County Sheriff in Northern California has applied for and received partial funding for Project Skynet, a network of surveillance cameras and automated license plate readers (ALPRs). Project Skynet would install 160 ALPRs and 124 surveillance cameras at 66 locations throughout Solano County. In its response to a request for public records, Daniel Wolk, Deputy County Counsel for Solano County noted, “this is at the proposal stage and specifics, including camera locations, have not been decided upon.”

Map of Phase I Camera/ALPR Locations

Map of Phase I Camera/ALPR Locations

Like the ring of stationary ALPRs around the City of Piedmont, the goal of the project is to capture images and video of all vehicles entering and exiting Solano County. According to a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation prepared by the Solano County Sheriff’s Office, the surveillance cameras would be capable of pan-tilt-zoom and data from the ALPRs and cameras would allow “real time information or years of past history.” The UASI grant application states, “In addition to the direct connection this project has with observing and locating terrorists, it also allows law enforcement to monitor human trafficking. I-80 is a major artery for drugs and human trafficking which are major funding sources for terrorism, from the west coast to the east.”

As with all grant applications to the Urban Areas Security Initiative, the project must have a nexus to terrorism. In its proposal for a Homeland Security Grant, the Solano County Sheriff writes, “We will be able to…locate persons and vehicles associated with terrorist threats, disrupt terrorist financing…” However, given that terrorism is extremely rare, this surveillance network is more likely to be used against pedestrian suspected criminal activity.

The PowerPoint document states, “There are 36 (666) locations, many of which are large freeways and near impossible to watch at once.” “666” is a police code for a county-wide emergency or be-on-the-lookout (BOLO). However, the grant application and approval documents cite 35 locations.

On July 13, 2017, the Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) Approval Authority approved funding of $104,590 towards the $2 million total cost of Project Skynet.

Bay Area UASI Approval slide

The estimated $2 million cost for Project Skynet is broken down into phases with an estimated cost of $535,000 for Phase I, $568,000 for Phase II, and $895,000 for Phase III. Data from the ALPRs would be stored at the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), the local joint fusion center that shares license plate reader data with dozens of local, state, and federal agencies.

The NCRIC stores license plate reader data for dozens of local law enforcement agencies and as of April 2015, stored 46.5 million records, which includes license plates and photographs of vehicles, including the occupants and surrounding area with geolocation data.

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

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