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

License Plate Reader Data Sharing at Northern California Regional Intelligence Center

 

Shortly after Palantir’s successful bid, the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) began gathering and sharing license plate reader data from law enforcement agencies throughout Northern California.

Fifteen agencies have a signed Memorandum of Understanding with NCRIC to share license plate reader data:

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_ALPR_Explorer

CHP Ford Explorer with Vigilant Video license plate readers

CHP_ALPR1

CHP Ford Explorer with Vigilant Video license plate readers

CHP_ALPR_top

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

Source documents: