Blogging Bayport Alameda

May 15, 2023

Whatcha watching

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:01 am

Interesting. APD is asking the City Council at tomorrow’s meeting for more in car dash cameras with license plate reader technology. APD is framing the need as less as a need for the license plate reader crime solving (not crime prevention mind you) technology but rather to hold police officers accountable, from the staff report:

APD seeks Council approval of a purchase agreement with Axon to install 23 in-car cameras in the patrol vehicle fleet which will increase transparency and accountability while enhancing officers’ abilities to address specific vehicles involved in crime.


This system isn’t only designed to provide an ALPR function.  An equally important aspect of this technology is the ability to assess performance.  Body-worn cameras and in-car cameras are widely utilized by law enforcement and are effective tools for providing an objective record of interactions between law enforcement and the community.  The recordings provide evidence in criminal cases and also increase accountability and transparency, which are crucial to solidifying public trust.  Having an independent and reviewable record of an incident is in line with 21stCentury Policing and best practices. 

In light of this framing APD is reminding the reader of this staff report that *someone* asked for more license plate readers in a referral pretty recently too, so the sis just giving someone on the Council what they wanted:

a City Council referral was made to bring forth this staff report on augmenting the existing fixed ALPR system with a mobile ALPR system.

Of course, as with the discussion prior to approving the first ALPR systems in Alameda, there is no data being provided in this staff report which demonstrates that ALPRs in Alameda have actually reduced crime. I think examples would have been nice or data showing an increase in case closure rates. But this brief blurb is, essentially, what the results of other ALPRs studies have been: that ALPR is good in assisting to help close cases but that it a stretch to say that they are preventing or even reducing crime:

In-car cameras with ALPR technology enhance officers’ abilities to detect criminal activity, gather digital evidence, and help to alert them of crimes.  Using systems to alert officers of missing person vehicles, Amber alert vehicles, or stolen cars allows the officer to confirm the data and take law enforcement action based on that data.  Acting on these alerts enhances APD’s objectives to protect our community from harm. 

Since using the Fixed ALPR system, officers have been notified of stolen vehicles entering the City.  Investigators have been able to develop leads and gather evidence to strengthen probable cause cases against suspects.  APD’s ability to take data-informed action on those committing crimes has increased while simultaneously reducing less informed police contacts has occurred.  

The only data point we have is that data from the ALPR system was “used” in 36 investigations in the last 30 days but not if those cases were closed or if they closed faster than they would normally have without the ALPR system.

The interesting thing about this accountability framing is that Trish Spencer’s desire to terminate Alameda’s contract with Truleo which provides body worn cameras to APD and had the audacity to play up the “police accountability” angle in their marketing. That’s still on the Referral agenda for tomorrow night if the CC can make it through the agenda. And don’t think that Axon also does nor hype up the accountability angle either. From Jacobin

But none are as evangelical about the promise of digital policing than Axon’s founder and CEO Rick Smith. Smith has promised to the media on numerous occasions that his company would help “make the bullet obsolete . . . it will change the world when we do it.” He even wrote a book on this topic last year called The End of Killing: How Our Newest Technologies Can Solve Humanity’s Oldest Problem. Axon’s website makes similarly lofty claims, estimating that, to date, 225,000 lives have been saved by their products.

The privacy concerns are in place for all of these systems, it will be enlightening to see how some members of the City Council walk the line between privacy concerns when it comes to dragneting all cars that pass by a certain fixed point in Alameda and/or by a police car fixed with a dash ALPR and privacy concerns that every moment that a police officer’s body worn camera comes on the dialogue is transcribed and run through a machine learning program to highlight possibly problematic encounters.


  1. The accountability angle is BS. The officers know work arounds for body worn cameras as well as dash cameras. Look at the Trye Nichols killing. If it had not been for the overhead camera the full picture never would have come out.

    Comment by antiracisteveryday — May 15, 2023 @ 9:27 am

  2. I tend to think most cops are good cops and will use them for there intended purpose. I don’t have any expectation of privacy when I go outside. Every block houses with with ring doorbells, security cameras, business with cameras, You pass an ATM, intersections, hallways, elevators, or some cars you are on camera. Just smile when you are outside, you on candid camera or big brother is watching you?

    Comment by Gage — May 15, 2023 @ 2:13 pm

    • Agree. Besides the outside cameras, the first thing law enforcement does is swoop up your cellphone data as you move through your daily life- tracking your location and activity. And I like the cop car cameras. I want to see what they see before I judge them.

      Oh yeah- and Tik Tok is sending your data to China. There is no privacy unless you live in a yurt in Idaho.

      Comment by privacy? — May 15, 2023 @ 5:51 pm

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