IE11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Police in Bay Area City Rolling Out Cameras to Read License Plates

Concord has become the latest Bay Area city to try to deter crime by spending big on cameras that can read license plates and allow authorities to identify people with ease.

The Concord City Council has agreed to pay Atlanta-based Flock Safety nearly $800,000 to set up 65 cameras at key locations around the city. The contract will last four years, and the city has an option to renew after year two.

Once installed, the camera technology will be able to identify vehicles that may have been stolen or driven by people of interest or suspects in crimes, according to city documents. The readers can also make out a vehicle’s color, make, model and physical characteristics, such as a roof rack or bumper stickers.

It is not clear what checks and balances would exist to ensure people’s privacy. Concord police did not respond to an interview request. But a review by the California State Auditor of four police agencies in the state that use license plate readers found that cities that use the technology “must improve their policies, procedures, and monitoring for the use and retention of license plate images and corresponding data.”

The “automated license plate reader” technology — already mounted to five Concord police patrol vehicles — has also been used by law enforcement agencies around the Bay Area, including BART and Piedmont. Walnut Creek, Pittsburg and Pleasant Hill have also adopted the monitoring systems, San Leandro is considering buying cameras, and Alameda voted in February to expand its program from four license plate readers to 17.

Police departments everywhere are wielding increasingly powerful technology to keep track of residents and find information more quickly to aid investigations. Some residents and privacy advocates have pushed back, urging cities to set up oversight bodies and protect due-process rights.

Last year, Concord police promised residents that a new drone program would not spy on the innocent but instead focus on sniffing out fleeing crime suspects or locating missing people. Some residents worried that the presence of the new technology alone could escalate confrontational situations between police and those experiencing mental health crises.

Flock Safety contracts with several other cities, homeowner associations and businesses and law enforcement agencies to provide cameras and technology.

©2022 MediaNews Group, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.