CARLSBAD — The Carlsbad Police Department will expand its automated license plate reader program after receiving City Council approval at its May 10 meeting.
The council also agreed to replace the police department’s 17-year-old computer-assisted dispatch system, which includes the purchase of in-vehicle video systems for 60 vehicles.
The approved initiatives combined will cost the city $4.2 million.
The city’s police force came under fire in January after it was revealed the department violated state law by sharing data from its license plate reading program with other law enforcement agencies. law enforcement outside of California, according to a inewsource story.
However, during the meeting, none of the council members questioned police officials or made any public remarks outside council chambers regarding the department’s alleged violation of state law, which allows only law enforcement to share data with agencies in California.
According to Cpt. Bryan Hargett, Carlsbad Police will add 43 new cameras to its inventory — nearly doubling the size of the city’s program since its inception in 2017 — at a cost of $1.4 million. When the program was created five years ago, the police department had 51 fixed cameras and six mobile players in police vehicles.
The council also asked staff to bring back an item to increase the number of police vehicles equipped with mobile cameras.
Hargett and Lt. Jeff Smith praised the specialized camera’s usefulness as a crime-fighting tool, noting that nearly every murder in the city has been solved, at least in part, by these types of devices. . Additionally, the cameras have been used in welfare checks and cases of theft, assault, missing persons, etc.
“They only capture fixed license plates,” Smith said. “The back of the plate. There is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between each agency we share data with. The data is kept for one year, except in the context of an investigation.
Resident Vicky Syage slammed the police department’s license plate reading program, questioning the council for spending extra money on cameras, which is putting more pressure on the budget.
Syage said the board held a meeting on April 20 to discuss a projected budget shortfall by the 2024-25 fiscal year, so it doesn’t make financial sense to allocate more money to the program.
However, not all the money allocated to the two programs will come from the general fund. For example, the video system will use $1 million from the city’s technology investment fund.
Either way, Syage said it makes no sense to replace and expand the program because the cameras are out of warranty. She also questioned the number of program visits compared to actual cases.
In previous meetings about the program, privacy advocates have raised concerns about data management, recording and access.
Syage said the police department’s inappropriate data-sharing activities breached residents’ trust.
“It shouldn’t have taken a journalist to find out,” Syage said. “Bring three to four clean audits before asking for more money.”
Carlsbad Police provided limited data for Smith to present to council regarding the effectiveness of the program. According to Smith, license plate readers averaged 6.1 million hits per month, but there was little information showing how many of those cases led to an arrest, trial or conviction.
Hargett said that since the program began, 430 stolen cars have been recovered with 470 arrests, as well as the cracking of an organized gang of retail thieves.
By city policy, Carlsbad Police must perform monthly and semi-annual audits for license plate readers.
“Obviously, safety is No. 1,” Mayor Matt Hall said. “Every tool you can give an officer amplifies what they can do. I have never seen such a powerful tool as license plate readers.