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

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:

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