UPDATE: San Jose council approves license plate readers to curb crime

Dated: December 1 2021

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San Jose has approved leasing new license plate reading cameras, although questions remain about their deployment.

The San Jose City Council agreed Tuesday to spend $250,000 in federal relief funds on license plate reading cameras. The proposal was prompted by several high-profile robberies and thefts at retail stores in the Bay Area. Details about collection, use and retention of license plate reading data will be hammered out by lawmakers early next year.

The council also approved American Rescue Plan funding allocations to expand the SJ Bridge program and food distribution, among other things.

Councilmembers questioned where cameras would be deployed and whether they would be mobile or fixed, but expressed enthusiasm for rolling them out. Councilmember Maya Esparza noted her constituents in District 7 have experienced an uptick in violence.

“It has impacted the psyche of people who are afraid to go get boba because they don’t know if their car is gonna be broken into or they’re gonna be accosted,” Esparza said.

Assistant Police Chief Paul Joseph explained the city has some license plate readers deployed on vehicles. The new ones authorized by the city would be stationary, but capable of being deployed to different parts of the city.

“This memo is dealing with major organized retail crime,” Joseph said, noting a license plate reader installed at Grand Century Mall recently helped officers apprehend burglary suspects. “However, there’s other issues they can also help us with, and help us both deter crime and identify and apprehend suspects.”

Mayor Sam Liccardo, who co-signed the memo requesting the cameras, said previous efforts to install cameras have prompted concerns about infringing on civil liberties. He said the city will have to figure out how to appropriately deploy cameras at busy intersections versus residential neighborhoods on a case-by-case basis.

“The ‘where’ matters a lot, and the context matters,” Liccardo said. “I don’t think there’s one size that fits all.”

San Jose Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, one of the supporters of the proposal, told San José Spotlight before the meeting he believes license plate reading technology could be a big asset for local enforcement.

“We could at least have a shot at apprehending the perpetrators of those crimes,” he said.

An example of an automatic license plate reader. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

San Jose has been using license plate readers since at least November 2016, but some proposals to expand its use have fizzled. In 2015, then-Councilmember Johnny Khamis recommended the city place license plate readers on garbage trucks to help locate stolen cars. This policy failed to advance after it received significant backlash from privacy advocates, including the ACLU.

In 2019, Khamis said the city allocated money for cameras to use on parking enforcement vehicles, but the San Jose Police Department never purchased the cameras. Khamis is no longer on the City Council.

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Sharad Gupta

Real Estate Sales Leader with over 15 years of diversified experience in real estate sales, property development, and business consulting. With a keen eye to spot real estate opportunities and a natur....

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