DEL MAR — The city of Del Mar is partnering with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to install license plate recognition cameras to assist investigations into serious crimes, joining other cities throughout North County that have implemented similar programs.
Five cameras will be installed on traffic lights at main intersections in the city by the end of December, according to Assistant City Manager Clem Brown. At a Monday meeting, the City Council approved a payment of $28,790 to the Sheriff’s Department for the cameras to be operated for three years.
Lt. Christopher Lawrence said the data gathered by the cameras, which use the Rekor license plate recognition (LPR) software, will be used solely for investigations into crimes such as homicides, child abductions, assaults and series of burglaries.
“It’s very limited to an open criminal investigation — that’s the only time this data is able to be used,” Lawrence said. “It can’t be used to support red light camera violations or anything like that, and it has nothing to do with speeders or anything like that. Again, it’s just strictly used for criminal investigations into serious matters.”
One camera will be installed at each of the following intersections: Camino Del Mar and Via de la Valle going southbound, Camino Del Mar and Del Mar Heights Road going northbound, and 4th Street and Camino Del Mar going westbound.
Two additional cameras will be installed at the intersection of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and Via de la Valle, one for southbound traffic and the other for westbound traffic.
City leaders hope the LPR system will assist in locating suspects of serious crimes who don’t reside in the city and increase the recovery of stolen vehicles. According to a staff report, around half of the suspects arrested for severe offenses in Del Mar did not reside locally, indicating that they were traveling in and out of the city while committing crimes.
In addition, just 13% of stolen vehicles in Del Mar in 2022 were recovered by deputies in the city, according to the report.
“The [Rekor] LPR system is always active and provides live alerts. Therefore, this system would substantially improve the rate at which vehicles are recovered nearby, thus reducing the financial and time impacts to victims,” the staff report states.
While the City Council unanimously approved the agreement with the sheriff’s department, individual council members expressed concern about residents’ privacy.
Mayor Dwight Worden said he was worried about “false positives,” where the camera might identify an incorrect license plate and lead to law enforcement contacting the wrong person and about the data being made public.
“I am concerned about the privacy implications and would be interested in monitoring, and hopefully, we won’t get a lot of complaints about it,” Worden said.
Lawrence assured the council that false positives are easily avoided. When the license plate recognition (LPR) camera picks up on a plate number that is part of an investigation, deputies view the photo themselves and can compare it with the plate number on file to be sure they match, he said.
“Rekor is one of the most advanced systems that are out there. They have the ability to read vanity plates, paper plates, metal plates and a number of other plates,” Lawrence said.
In addition, with the new Rekor system, the department will be prohibited from storing data collected by the camera for more than 90 days, he added, and the department has so far defended against all public records requests for this data.
Police departments in other North County cities with LPR cameras have come under fire for how they used LPR data.
In January of this year, inewsource reported that the Carlsbad, Oceanside and Escondido police departments, along with those in La Mesa and Coronado, broke state law by sharing license plate reader data with out-of-state agencies. California police departments can only share LPR data with other state agencies.
After the news broke, the Carlsbad and Oceanside police departments appeared to change their policies to match state law. Oceanside also stopped sharing this data nationwide, and the Escondido department claimed they did nothing wrong, according to inewsource.
Along with Carlsbad, Escondido and Oceanside, the city of Encinitas recently approved an agreement to install plate reader cameras throughout the city.