San Carlos

Staff Report

Consideration of Adopting a Resolution Authorizing the City Manager to Enter into an Agreement to Purchase and Install Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) at One Intersection from Vigilant Technologies in the Amount of $118,172.18, Increasing the Appropriations Budget in the Amount of $125,000, and Changing the ALPR Data Retention Period from Six (6) Months to One (1) Year.


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It is recommended that the City Council consider adopting a Resolution authorizing the City Manager to enter into an agreement to purchase and install Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR) at one intersection from Vigilant Technologies in the amount of $118,172.18, increasing the appropriations budget in the amount of $125,000, and changing the ALPR data retention period from six months to one year.




Every year since the beginning of the City’s contract relationship with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, there have been savings accrued to the City because expenses incurred by the Sheriff’s Office in meeting their contract obligations have not met or exceeded the contracted amount.  The County has set aside those funds into a trust account which currently amount to approximately $560,000.  It is recommended that the funding for the ALPR come from the trust.  As such, the City has requested a transfer of $125,000 from the trust account which will directly offset the additional appropriation needed to pay for the ALPRs.  Therefore, there will be no net impact to the General Fund with the acquisition of this technology.


Staff has outlined the following reasons to sole source this purchase to Vigilant Solutions:


·         There are currently 11 Vigilant cameras deployed in San Carlos.  One of those cameras was provided at no cost by the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC).

·         The software to support this new purchase is already in place due to the prior purchase.

·         The Sheriff’s Office currently uses Vigilant at the Maple Street Correctional Center and in its vehicles that contain mobile readers.

·         Sheriff Staff is trained on Vigilant and having two systems in place simultaneously would create unnecessary systems management issues.

·         Vigilant offers Associate Analysis whereby a known plate can be analyzed to look for other plates that are often in the same location at the same time as the known plate.

·         Vigilant offers a feature whereby geo-zones are created and common plates are looked for that have crossed into the zone during a crime series.

·         Vigilant offers a smartphone application that can be used in the field by deputies.




ALPR technologies are camera systems designed to read license plates with the use of optical character recognition. ALPR systems can be fixed or mobile. For fixed camera systems, one camera covers only one lane of travel.  The most common ALPR system most of us encounter is at bridge toll crossings. Law enforcement has found valuable uses for these systems, which include the following:


·         Locate stolen, wanted and subject of investigation vehicles.

·         Locate and apprehend individuals subject to arrest warrants or otherwise lawfully sought by law enforcement.

·         Locate witnesses and victims of violent crimes.

·         Locate missing persons, including those subject to Amber Alerts.


On January 12, 2015, the City Council approved the purchase, installation, and use of eleven (11) ALPRs within the City.  Since that time, the technology has proven to be an extremely valuable crime fighting tool.  Numerous examples exist of where this technology has helped to solve serious crimes in this County and, at times, the City’s ALPRs have played a part in that.


ALPR Data Retention

ALPR data is stored and managed by the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) in San Francisco.  Access to the data is strictly regulated and is for law enforcement personnel only.   This system may only be accessed under the following strict guidelines:


1.      Persons gaining access must have completed NCRIC training on system use, system security, and issues surrounding need to know/right to know.

2.      Upon completion of the training, personnel are issued access codes so all their uses of the system can be tracked.

3.      There must be a legitimate law enforcement purpose which must be stated upon access.

4.      There must be an actual criminal case number from a law enforcement agency as a way to further verify and track use.


ALPR data is stored at NCRIC and deleted automatically after one year unless it is pulled as part of an on-going investigation.  Once the ALPR data is deleted, it cannot be retrieved.  Some agencies in the United States store ALPR data for much shorter time periods; some store it for much longer.  Staff recommends holding to the NCRIC guideline of one year because the law enforcement value of the data after a year has lessened significantly.  It is our experience that cases can take as much as a year to develop.  The majority of agencies providing ALPR data to NCRIC comply with the one-year retention policy of NCRIC, while others have selected shorter periods.


Nature and Use of ALPR Technology

In a 2011 survey, almost 75% of responding law enforcement agencies reported using license plate readers and 85% planned to increase their use of license plate readers over the next five years. It has been estimated that over 1,200 agencies in all 50 U.S. states use this technology and approximately 5,000 agencies worldwide use it. Locally, the cities of Daly City, Hayward, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Mateo, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Mountain View, Palo Alto and many others use ALPR technology in their communities.


Federal and State courts have determined that there is no legitimate expectation of privacy with respect to license plate data. However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other organizations have expressed concern about the technology.  Some of their concerns include:


·         License plate data reveals the travel histories of millions of motorists who have committed no crime.

·         The proliferation of cameras puts the public at risk of being under increased surveillance and these organizations express concern about the impact. For example, would a lawful person attend a rally against the war on terror to exercise free speech if he/she thought the government was watching?

·         Abusive tracking, such as a law enforcement agent using the data to track their boss, ex-spouse, workplace rival, etc.


These concerns have not been dismissed by law enforcement. In fact, law enforcement has sought the input of the ACLU and other groups in policy formation surrounding privacy issues. Law enforcement has no interest in learning the driving patterns of innocent persons but has a great interest in the continued use of ALPR technology to fight crime. To that end, the profession has diligently worked to create policies and practices that prevent inappropriate or unauthorized use of ALPR data. By protecting the privacy rights of innocent parties, law enforcement agencies help insure their continued use of this valuable technology.


Bay Area law enforcement agencies are working to ensure best practices as it relates to ALPR data management by centralizing the data under the guidance of the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC) in San Francisco. The NCRIC is a multi-jurisdictional organization designed to assist all law enforcement with the collection, analysis and dissemination of criminal threat information. The NCRIC houses ALPR data in the region and has implemented strict policies around it such as:  restrictions on where and when the data can be collected; training of law enforcement personnel; creation and implementation of data use audits; monitoring of data accuracy; providing for physical security of the data; retention of the data; system management and accountability; data dissemination; and policy revisions. By housing the data with the NCRIC, Bay Area law enforcement is best positioned to share information, protect the privacy rights of individuals and ensure strict adherence to practices designed to protect civil liberties


Sheriff’s Office Collaborates with the ACLU on New ALPR Policy Formulation

Several months ago, the Sheriff Office reached out to the ACLU and requested they assist in a review of the ALPR policy and make recommendations for any changes.  Sheriff Carlos G. Bolanos is a strong supporter of ALPR technology but is also very mindful and respectful of the civil liberties concerns expressed by some.  To that end, he directed his Staff to work closely with the ACLU in developing a new policy that would address their legitimate concerns. 


After several months of collaborative work, the Sheriff’s Office recently adopted a new policy that contains every recommendation made by the ACLU.  When advised of this decision, Rebecca McDowell of the ACLU responded, “Incredible news!  Thank you for collaborating with us and taking our recommendations into consideration.”






Cities with crime rates and populations similar to San Carlos spend millions more on police services than our City does.  The City is now positioned to use a portion of the savings it enjoys to acquire technology that has been proven to significantly help law enforcement.  Investigations into crimes such as murder, sexual assault, and armed robbery are regularly benefiting from ALPR technology.


Although ALPR systems cannot replace uniformed patrol, they have proven to be a very successful tool and have allowed law enforcement to make arrests in cases where the suspects may have otherwise gone undetected.  Early apprehension of criminals is an important part of preventing both property crime and violent crime.  Additionally, experience has shown that when criminals know that ALPRs are deployed in a particular city, they will often avoid that city.  The nine cameras being requested would be strategically placed at one or more entrance/exit points to San Carlos.


Currently, the City retains ALPR data for six months whereas the industry standard is one year.  Although there has not been a case where that difference would have mattered, there are many examples of the successful use of the technology and it is reasonable to believe that it could at some point. Since collecting data in 2015, there have not been any detected acts of misuse nor any allegations of misuse.  For these reasons, the recommendation is for a one-year data retention period.




The alternatives available to the City Council include:


  1. Adopt the Resolution authorizing the City Manager to enter into an agreement to purchase and install Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR) at one intersection from Vigilant Technologies in the amount of $118,172.18, increase the appropriations budget in the amount of $125,000, and change the ALPR data retention period from six months to one year; or
  2. Provide direction that modifies the Resolution; or
  3. Do not adopt the Resolution; or
  4. Provide staff with alternative direction.