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File #: 2022-1679   
Type: Regular Agenda Item
Body: City Council
On agenda: 2/1/2022
Title: Recommendation to Provide Direction to Staff Regarding the Use of Fixed and Mobile Automated License Plate Readers. (Police 10031110)
Attachments: 1. Exhibit 1 - December 21, 2021 Council Report on ALPR, 2. Exhibit 2 - President Barack Obama Task Force on 21st Century Policing Final Report, 3. Exhibit 3 - Personal Privacy Impact Evaluation, 4. Staff Memo, 5. Correspondence - Updated 1/31, 6. Presentation, 7. Correspondence - Updated 2/2



Recommendation to Provide Direction to Staff Regarding the Use of Fixed and Mobile Automated License Plate Readers. (Police 10031110)




To: Honorable Mayor and Members of the City Council




Staff has assembled an objective analysis of the benefits and concerns associated with the use of Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) equipment and is seeking direction on whether to move forward with the installation and utilization of fixed and mobile ALPR equipment. 

Consistent with President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Report, ALPR would help support the Alameda Police Department’s (APD) intelligence led policing initiatives.  By focusing resources on specific vehicles engaged in criminal activity or missing person(s), the APD would increase its investigative efficacy while reducing unnecessary delays in pursuing leads.  The use of ALPR would also minimize and mitigate unintended consequences of antiquated policing tactic, sometimes characterized as over-policing officers are forced to investigate similar vehicles as opposed to investigating the actual vehicle responsible for criminal activity.

On December 21, 2021, staff presented a City Council report (Exhibit 1) and recommended implementation of fixed ALPR at specific locations within the City of Alameda.  Staff was directed to provide additional information on the cost, maintenance, retention periods, use, and comparison to the City of Berkeley’s proposed security cameras.  This report serves as a follow-up report to address those concerns.




The city of Alameda has experienced a rise in Part 1 crimes, namely auto thefts and assaults. .  ALPR serves as an additional tool to gather timely evidence and assist with investigations when vehicles are involved.  The use of ALPR is consistent with President Obama’s Final Report on 21st Century Policing (Exhibit 2).  Academics, practitioners, and other public safety experts came together in 2015 to create a “blueprint” with best policing practices. The focus was on building public trust and promoting effective crime reduction through community policing  The “six pillars” contained within this report are include below and considered in the context of ALPRs in Alameda:


Pillar 1 - Building Trust & Legitimacy

                     The use of ALPR reduces APD’s policing footprint by allowing officers and investigators to focus on specific vehicles involved in crime.  Stops based on vague vehicle information have a higher chance of harming trust and confidence and do not promote legitimacy. 

                     Enhancing APD’s ability to quickly respond to and resolve crimes involving specific vehicles will demonstrate legitimacy within our community. 


Pillar 2 - Policy & Oversight

                     APD is steadfast and committed to creating a policy that honors privacy concerns that reflect our community values.  The current ALPR policy allows a retention period of 6 months.  It is recommended to reduce the retention time frame from 6 months to 90 days.  Access and use of ALPR data will continue to require supervisory approval and specific case note entries.  Use of the ALPR technology will be audited and violators (including supervisors as applicable) will be held accountable for misuse/abuse.


Pillar 3 - Technology & Social Media

                     Leveraging technology is a way for staff to make timely and informed decisions.  APD prioritizes public safety, community relations, and organizational efficiency.  The use of ALPR enhances investigative prowess and is a resource that reduces APD’s policing footprint.  APD’s goal is to be present and within our community enough to support public safety initiatives, but not more than necessary.  If ALPR technology reduces that unnecessary presence, APD will be further welcomed into our community.


Pillar 4 - Community Policing & Crime Reduction

                     APD will co-produce public safety with our community.   APD is committed to public safety and will ensure that the service is delivered in a procedurally just way.  Again, leveraging technology assists in delivering service that isn’t random or strategically focuses on those that are engaged in harming our community. 

                     Simultaneously, our community clearly supports an environment that is free of crime or the perception of crime by relying on a police department that consistently promotes the dignity of all.  ALPR technology would assist personnel with crime prevention, intervention, and/or enforcement.


Pillar 5 - Training & Education

                     APD will continue to train on the use of ALPR technology to ensure staff is always operating consistent with approved policies and in alignment with community expectations.  Training will be documented.  This documentation will serve as a foundation for appropriate use and corrective action on those who violate relevant policies associated with ALPR.


Pillar 6 - Officer Wellness & Safety

                     Line level officers are always at risk and certainly at a disadvantage when conducting vehicle stops.  It is of paramount concern that our officers are aware of vehicles that are engaged in dangerous activities.  ALPR helps reduce vulnerability if officers are made aware of dangers associated with specifically identified vehicles prior to an encounter. 


Follow-up from Prior City Council Meeting




Several years ago, the cost for a new fixed ALPR system at all vehicular points of ingress and egress to the city was estimated to be $500,000 or greater  In recent years, the costs have decreased considerably.  New options, such as solar power, rather than traditional hardwiring, is one example of an opportunity to reduce costs. Staff’s most recent research indicates that the cost of a fixed and mobile ALPR system would be as follows: 

                     Fixed ALPR cost is between $2500 and $3000 per camera, per year.

o                     Staff recommends having fixed ALPR installed at up to 14 locations. The cost to operate a fixed ALPR system would be $35,000 to $42,000 per year.

                     Mobile ALPR cost is between $2,400 and $2,520 per vehicle, per year.

o                     APD, fully staffed, would have approximately 30 vehicles assigned to the patrol division. The cost to operate a mobile ALPR system for all 30 vehicles would be $72,000 to $75,600.


Retention of ALPR Data


The City’s existing APD ALPR policy allows for data to be retained for 6-months. Staff recommends that this timeframe be reduced to 90 days for fixed ALPRs based on City Council direction in the past to reduce retention.  Allowing for data to be safely and securely stored (and only allowing access for legitimate investigative purposes) ensures that information that may be helpful in clearing or solving crimes is available.


Berkeley - Fixed Security Cameras


At the prior City Council meeting, the City Council directed staff to explore the City of Berkeley’s recently approval of a fixed security camera system in various locations throughout the City.


                     Based on staff’s understanding, the use of this technology has similarities to ALPR systems in that there is a camera and data is collected. However, that is where the similarities end. ALPR technology focuses on license plates and vehicles (and is not designed to unreasonably capture more than that). A security camera system is designed to capture a much broader range of images - static and moving clips of people, vehicles, and the overall environment. While there has been an approval for security cameras in Berkeley, staff in that community are continuing to evaluate this option and how it will be deployed based on our research after the meeting.


Is ALPR Still Useful If A Vehicle Does Not Have A License Plate?


Yes.  ALPR use with vehicles without license plates still has value.

State law requires all vehicles to display front and rear license plates, temporary or permanent.  However, vehicle owners/drivers may not always abide by these laws for a variety of reasons.  While APD prioritizes dangerous vehicle code violations, staff recognizes certain planned crimes are committed with vehicles used as a means of escape.  As such, APD would also focus on drivers who fail to display required license plates.  Even still, the proposed technology has the ability to capture clips of vehicles with partially obscured license plates.  By gathering some of the characters, staff could develop a full plate and still advance an investigation through these leads.

                     The proposed technology also has the ability to capture clips of vehicles without license plates.  The value still lies within the specific make and model of the vehicle.  In those instances, leads are developed by taking a forensic approach where specific physical attributes could help with actual vehicle identification.

                     Nonetheless, vehicles without license plates do pose a challenge for ALPR technology, but there are still opportunities to develop leads.




1.                     Direct staff to move forward with the implementation of fixed ALPR

2.                     Direct staff to bring back expansion of mobile ALPR systems.

3.                     Direct staff to not move forward with the implementation of ALPR technology at this time.




Should the City Council direct staff to move ahead with implementation of a fixed ALPR system, staff will bring back contracts with a proposed vendor outlining the operation and maintenance for City Council consideration and approval.




The proposed action does not affect the Municipal Code or Council Policies.  Should the City Council direct staff to move forward with implementation of a fixed ALPR system, the project and operation of the system would be executed in a manner consistent with adopted policies.


Staff analyzed City of Alameda Resolution 15625, which is entitled “ESTABLISHING A PRIVACY POLICY, DATA MANAGEMENT POLICY AND PROHIBITING THE USE OF FACE RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY.” The use of a fixed ALPR system is not inconsistent with Resolution 15625 and the policies established thereunder.  For example, Exhibit A to Resolution 15625 establishes a set of core privacy principles.  Privacy principle number 2, “Design and Use Equitable Privacy Practices” expresses the policy as follows:


Community safety and access to city services should not come at the expense of the right to privacy. We aim to avert inequities by collecting information in ways that do not discriminate against any resident of Alameda or any Alameda community. When possible, we will offer clearly communicated alternatives to the collection of personal information at the time of collection.


ALPR technology focuses solely on extracting empirical data, primarily the license plate numbers which California law requires be affixed to every vehicle.  The system is categorically objective and cannot collect information in ways that discriminate against any resident of Alameda or any Alameda community. 


Principle 3, entitled “Limit Collection and Retention Of Personal Information” states,


We believe that we should collect and store personal information only when and for as long as is justified to directly serve the specific purpose for which it is collected, such as to protect the safety, health, or security of Alameda residents or access by Alameda residents to city services. We will continue our practice of reaching out to Alameda residents for their views on the information we collect and how we use it. We also will look for new opportunities for outreach.


As explained more thoroughly in Exhibit 3, “Personal Privacy Impact Evaluation for the Use of Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR) for Public Safety in Alameda, California”, the proposed technology collects and stores clips of vehicles and their license plates solely under collection and storage protocols designed to protect the safety, health and security of Alameda residents.  The policies for the collection and storage of data reflect that the technology cannot be used for anything other than a legitimate law enforcement purpose. 


This is similar to when a victim/witness writes down a license plate of a vehicle and provides it to law enforcement.  That license plate would still have to be entered into various DOJ controlled databases to learn of registered owner information.  Even still, registered owner information does not readily identify the driver of the vehicle.  Rather, it provides the Department with only the identity of the vehicle’s registered owner.


Finally, the use of this technology does not conflict with the Data Management Policy for the City of Alameda which is attached as Exhibit B. to Resolution 15625. The City’s Data Management Policy expressly states that it “does not apply to information collected by the City for public safety purposes.”


See also Exhibit 3, Personal Privacy Impact Evaluation for the Use of Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR) for Public Safety in Alameda, California




This action is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) pursuant to CEQA Guidelines sections 15061(b)(3) (common sense exemption) and 15321 (law enforcement activities).




No climate impacts are anticipated from receiving direction from Council.




Provide direction to staff regarding the use of fixed automated license plate readers.  The Police Chief recommends approval of fixed automated license plate readers.




The City Manager defers to the Police Chief’s recommendation based on his evaluation on fixed ALPR.  I recommend that expansion of mobile ALPRs not be considered until a later date after evaluation of the fixed ALPR program.


Respectfully submitted,

Nishant Joshi, Police Chief


Financial Impact section reviewed,

By: Gerry Beaudin, Assistant City Manager and Interim Finance Director


Municipal code and policy document cross reference section reviewed,

By: Alan Cohen, Assistant City Attorney



1.                     December 21, 2021 Council Report

2.                     President Obama’s Final Report on 21st Century Policing

3.                     Personal Privacy Impact Evaluation


cc:                     Eric Levitt, City Manager