Saying the city’s automated license-plate-reading cameras are a useful crime-fighting tool that have been well worth the money, the City Council voted to spend $113,358 to set up cameras at five new intersections, including one where residents have said surveillance is long overdue.
The intersections that will get cameras for the first time are Blair Avenue at Calvert Court, LaSalle Avenue at Indian Avenue, Harvard Avenue at Ranleigh Way, Trestle Glen Avenue at Park Avenue and Trestle Glen Avenue at Valant Place.
The Trestle Glen locations have been especially championed by residents there who say their street’s proximity to Park Boulevard has made it a relatively easy target for robbers and other criminals to come in and out. Several told the council Monday they want the cameras as soon as possible; Joseph Gold said more neighbors would have been at Monday’s meeting saying that, “but it seems that almost everyone is on vacation,” he said.
The city will also replace six existing cameras at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Wildwood Avenue with four newly acquired cameras; fewer are needed there with Grand’s conversion from four to two lanes at that intersection.
Over the past several months, Piedmont police had considered 24 prospective ingress/egress points between Piedmont and Oakland, but recommended the five new points for cameras because of budgetary limitations. “We can’t afford to equip every intersection in the city,” Police Chief Jeremy Bowers told the council.
Piedmont now has 39 cameras serving 15 intersections at entry points into the city from Oakland. These additional cameras have been under discussion for months.
Bowers praised the cameras for their role in helping police work two fairly recent home-invasion robberies. On Jan. 24, 2018 three armed men ransacked a house on Lorita Avenue; Piedmont’s license plate-reading cameras provided evidence that led to positive identification of the suspects’ car. And after a Jan. 12, 2019 home invasion on Scenic Avenue, in which three men rang the doorbell of a house on Scenic Avenue, pushed to the ground a young boy who opened the door, and then robbed the house. Bowers said the city’s plate-reading cameras helped police detectives identify potential suspects in that crime.
Monday night’s Piedmont council vote came six days after the Richmond City Council voted 5-2 to not renew its contract with Vigilant Solutions of Livermore to process the information gathered by that city’s ALPR cameras.
Richmond Council members feared the data could be shared with federal immigration authorities to track down undocumented residents; Vigilant Solutions has a contract with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but Richmond police Chief Allwyn Brown told that city’s council that the information generated by Richmond cameras is shared only with other local police agencies.
After Monday’s meeting, Bowers stressed that Piedmont’s collected ALPR information won’t be shared with ICE or anyone else other than fellow law enforcement agencies.
The data will be stored with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), which shares only with law enforcement agencies.
Don Arana-Fogg of Concord, a frequent visitor to Piedmont and member of Oakland Privacy, a citizen’s coalition that defends the right to privacy and enhance oversight regarding the use of surveillance, also mentioned the Richmond council vote and fears ALPR information could be shared with ICE.
“I want to make sure I’m not being treated as a potential suspect because I’m being surveilled,” Arana-Fogg said.
Added Mike Katz-Lacabe of the Center for Human Rights and Privacy based in San Leandro, “The City of Piedmont is in a league of its own when it comes to collecting ALPR data.”
But it was clear Monday night that most people in the room want more cameras and not fewer.
The council voted 4-0 vote to bring the new cameras online (Councilman Tim Rood was absent). Mayor Robert McBain encouraged residents to go to the police department’s website to read the city’s ALPR policy HERE.
Another positive aspect, Bowers said, is that the nine “new” cameras were, in fact, bought used from the City of San Pablo at a total cost of $9,940 — the approximate cost of one such camera new.