Blogging Bayport Alameda

September 20, 2013

Grills on film, Alameda edition

Filed under: Alameda, Crime, Transportation — Lauren Do @ 6:00 am

A while back, I posted about the City of Piedmont working to install license plate reader cameras at select entrances to their city.   It hadn’t become an issue in Alameda quite yet, but at last Tuesday’s City Council meeting while the City Council was discussing pools and a possible loan to the School District — more on that drama some other time — a little tidbit was snuck in by Councilmember Lena Tam about the possibilities of license plate cameras in Alameda.

Essentially she mentioned that she is an “underground advocate” for license plate readers in Alameda to which her fellow Councilmembers laughed and responded that there was nothing “underground” about her efforts.   She mentioned that the Police Department would be bringing a report to the Council about the pros and cons of license plate readers very soon.   Councilmember Tam also mentioned that she had been looking in grants and things to fund the readers.

Just some perspective, Piedmont just started installing their cameras (39 cameras at 15 access points  at a cost of $678,613) by comparison Alameda only has five access points.

Here’s a good PBS News Hour piece on license plate reader cameras. Here’s the ACLU’s take on how license plate readers can be used effectively but how they also might be abused:

If they’re simply used to scan a vehicle’s license plate and then check to see whether that car is wanted for some reason, perhaps because it’s stolen or there’s an outstanding arrest warrant for the driver, the ACLU doesn’t have a problem with that.

The problem, though, is that, increasingly, law enforcement agencies are saving all of the photographs these license plate readers take, and not just of individuals who are wanted for a crime, but for every single person whose car passes them. And that information is being stored for increasingly long periods of time.

Our concern is that what’s happening is these plate readers are being used to create massive database us of where innocent Americans have traveled, and that these databases are being kept, tracking people stretching back for months, or even years.

If license plate readers do end up in Alameda, clearly this is an issue that we need to have a vigorous debate about on how to implement the readers, what information to keep and for how long.



  1. What are the camera’s that are now mounted on poles – such as at the S/W corner of Eagle and Constitution? I’m not talking about the video sensors at intersections on Signal lights – these are independent devices aimed at traffic (my example is recording traveling north on Constitution for the Tube).

    Comment by Bart — September 20, 2013 @ 7:21 am

  2. They are traffic counting cameras, I wrote a post about this a few months back.

    Comment by Lauren Do — September 20, 2013 @ 7:42 am

  3. And the cameras are routed to Room 641a?

    Thank you for the clarification.

    Comment by Bart — September 20, 2013 @ 7:51 am

  4. Well…

    I’m not a huge conspiracy theorist so I would say that if these traffic cameras could collect data that would be useful for surveillance purposes there would be no need to install cameras like license plate readers, but camera technology is pretty powerful so who knows.

    Comment by Lauren Do — September 20, 2013 @ 8:12 am

  5. They are also, at least around Alameda Pointe, to trigger green lights at Willie Stargell and Main, and catch people running red lights. Since it doesn’t work to trigger with compact cars at night, meaning I can get stuck there with a red light for 5 minutes or more, it probably catches a lot of red light runners. (As well as people like me who jump out of my car, hit the pedestrian crossing button, and try to make it back to the driver’s seat before it turns red again.)

    Comment by Jack Mingo — September 20, 2013 @ 8:18 am

  6. The traffic cameras installed are not red light running cameras.

    Comment by Lauren Do — September 20, 2013 @ 8:26 am

  7. I don’t like the idea. I can see where it would be a boon to law enforcement, but the potential for abuse is too high. There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for turning Alameda into one big gated community. If you don’t feel safe here, you can always move to one. Of course, that didn’t keep Trayvon Martin safe. He was killed inside one. Paranoia kills, too.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — September 20, 2013 @ 8:58 am

  8. The cameras that exists are either vehicle (incl. bicycle) detection to turn lights green for approaching vehicles or there are a few that provide a real-time, non-recorded feed to the police and public works departments so that reports of traffic issues can be verified adn dealt with quicker. (at least that’s what it said in the brochures).

    The detection cameras will also apparently provide traffic counts. The images are not kept, and tickets/citations are not able to be written because of them.

    As to the license plated detection, I’d like to hear what the problem is that we’re solving with license plate readers. And how that problem has exploded in Alameda in recent years that we need a new tool to deal with it. Seems that with the reductions in traffic patrols over the past few years, we’d be looking to bring back those services before we start tackling new problems.

    Comment by jkw — September 20, 2013 @ 9:08 am

  9. Lena “Law & Order” Tam. First, the APD Swat Tank, now license plate readers. When is she getting her own uniform? Maybe Sheriff Tam should start wearing her deputy badge to council meetings.

    Comment by vigi — September 20, 2013 @ 9:16 am

  10. Next will be a location transmitter implanted on each citizen at birth with an algorithmic location satellite connection. It’s for your own safety and the good of the community, you see.

    Comment by Jack Richard — September 20, 2013 @ 9:48 am

  11. 9-10: Great ideas, Vigi and Jack!. It would make it easier for all of us to follow Jack’s travels to distant lands and easier for him to recommend far-off cities, restaurants, and bars to us… 😉

    Comment by Jon Spangler — September 20, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

  12. And, the city could make lots of money selling the lists to third parties. Marketers would pay dearly for that info. Also, divorce attorneys could make use of the data to track philandering spouses.

    Comment by John Busby — September 20, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

  13. There is Phone App now that you can take a picture of that object and put it in a GPS and you can follow it by GPS. If you have Cell or Fast Track you can be tracked.

    It is Just numbers and Big Data already tracks it.

    Embrace it or Go Crazy….. Thats the Real World.

    Comment by That's The Real World — September 20, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

  14. Just for clarification for all! Cell phone users are tracked one way or another. Just how do cell phone users think their phone can be located to make or accept calls? Or execute the “Find my Phone function”?

    We are all tracked by our cell systems at present even if one negates the tracking function, or the ” find my phone function” on our little devices.

    Your friendly cell service has all the data stored for billings and snooping already! Same for Fast Trak both at the bridges and on the roads.

    Big brother is already here!!! There are few secrets where you travel.

    Hopefully the ACLU can force legal protection for our populace in use of this “formerly private info”.

    Comment by Tom — September 21, 2013 @ 7:52 am

  15. 13 my understanding of what you said is that if you take a picture of a dog it will be tracked by GPS, but unless the dog has a chip like a cell phone you would have to have your own personal satellite or drone wouldn’t you? what don’t I get about what you’re saying? Most amusing to me are people on Facebook ranting about NSA, as if a person with serious privacy concerns would have a Facebook account, especially one where they espouse political views as opposed to just post vacation photos. We are already crazy, that’s the real world!

    Comment by M.I. — September 21, 2013 @ 10:16 am

  16. I’m guessing but I think when 13 wrote, “…and put it in a GPS…” what was meant was “…and put a GPS in it…”. You know, like the dog ate my App and now I don’t know where I am but I know where the dog is. Good way to confuse the NSA.

    Comment by Jack Richard — September 21, 2013 @ 10:37 am

  17. Jack you can take a picture of a object with your camera phone. Store that picture in your phone, and they have phone and software app that can follow that object with a GPS system and will give you a map. I don’t use the App or Software but saw demo. I will try and find software if interested and post.

    Comment by That's The Real World — September 21, 2013 @ 11:13 am

  18. Here is a Video….. They address it in # 1

    Comment by That's The Real World — September 21, 2013 @ 11:24 am

  19. He’s tracking himself taking photos of the bag ladies, not tracking the ladies.

    Comment by Jack Richard — September 21, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

  20. Jack you are Right. It was explained to me wrong or they totally misunderstood. Like I said I never used the software or downloaded. Seemed like a far stretch.

    Maybe it was another software or program but this is what I found on youtube.

    If nothing else you lead me to a great app for learning.

    Comment by Been wrong many times — September 21, 2013 @ 3:35 pm

  21. #7 Denise, I would like to give you a real scenario of how license plate readers can be used effectively. I reside on a block in Alameda that is notoriously known as a place to stash stolen vehicles from surrounding cities. On many occasions, I have called APD to stop by and investigate vehicles that were suspicious or abandoned on my block. Luckily, on two occasions (that I am aware of) the vehicles were identified as stolen, recovered, and then returned to their owners. Licenced plate readers serve as force multipliers for our police force. Mounted on vehicles or at major intersections, these readers will allow APD to identify stolen vehicles stashed in Alameda so they can be returned to their owners. I don’t know if you have ever had a vehicle stolen or have been a victim of a crime, but these tools give our men in blue a better chance to identify stolen vehicles and increase the recovery and return rate. Thank you Councilmember Tam for helping to keep Alameda a safe place to raise a family.

    Comment by Bernice Wong — September 24, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

  22. 21. I agree that there are many useful benefits of license plate readers to law enforcement. My concern is that the benefits don’t necessarily out weigh the risks. And yes, I am currently dealing with identity theft and debating whether or not the benefit of an ATM card is worth the risk. I also hold with Ben Franklin that “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    Comment by Denise Shelton — September 24, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

  23. Some are mistaking red light camera which are nothing else but a racket on automobiles owner , one day or another you will make that very slow rolling stop . the cost $500 . interestingly they are usually located near major shopping mall .
    Our defense against them not to shop there and let the mall as well as every store know why , because this has nothing to do with safety , all about revenue . I am totally against them.
    This is exactly the way we got them removed from several city . make money with business or loose the businesses and try to match your losses with tickets camera .good luck.
    I had such adventure as someone borrowed my vehicle and made an extremely slow right hand turn , between the 2 frames the vehicle had moved the length of a car door , however the speed splayed was over 50 mph all the traffic was stopped .Redex the Ticket Co started the harassment , you pay or you will go to jail were among the threat , on the Funny side there was a really pretty gal behind the wheels , I send them a photo of myself and requested they provide me with the phone number of that pretty gal .
    At my age sex change is not an alternative .
    The Police officer overseeing the program had more common sense and requested the case to be dismissed , it was already heading for superior court …..
    As far as license plates reader I am totally for them ,
    Few years ago a renter was displaying 10 + cars for sales in the block , we did not get much help , I turned to the CHP fraud unit , within one phone call I knew the tag did not belong to the plates , the license plate belong to another vehicle , the vin number from yet another vehicle , now this got their attention pretty much the same for the other vehicles , gave them the exact address and kept documenting the vehicles, I was asked not to talk about it and did not , a few month later they shut down a chop shop in San Jose , Sacramento Oakland and my neighbors disappeared into thin air . overnight.
    – License plate reader are a great tool to prevent what some call profiling ,
    interestingly enough in most of the cases involving such stop in Alameda , the Police recovered drug , weapon and in several cases peoples on parole violation or with outstanding warrant .
    – License plate reader should be and must restricted to law enforcement only , any other use illegal . ie political , religious , labor ,race profiling .
    You only know how valuable this could be when your vehicle is stolen and the cost for a new one ,
    Everyone from the Police , Judge, prison guard car manufacturer , DMV and insurance have interest in your vehicle being stolen some for wages other pure profit . You and , you are the only Victim , no one else.
    Interestingly I have never heard a single case of a car thief / mechanic / junk yard or rare metal dealer being nailed by the IRS , on top of the crime , someone is buying selling exporting the platinium , rodium and other used in catalyst converter …..has to transport them overseas whether it is a boat , cargo plane , I have never heard of export search why not ….

    Comment by Joel Rambaud — October 1, 2013 @ 11:35 am

  24. The City should have big sign at every entry :
    City wide camera license plate reader in use ,
    then enlarge the next intersection for people to make u turns , same for shopping center ,as a reminder , bet you the robberies at Blanding , South shore would become thing of the past.

    Comment by Karl Bretzenzky — October 1, 2013 @ 11:44 am

  25. hey Karl that’s my idea!

    Comment by Joel Rambaud — October 1, 2013 @ 6:23 pm

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