ENCINITAS — The city of Encinitas will install seven license plate reader cameras in various locations across the city to help deter crime and assist law enforcement in criminal investigations.
On Wednesday, the Encinitas City Council voted 5-0 in favor of a San Diego County Sheriff’s Department proposal to install license plate readers at key access points across the city. The cameras will be placed at:
- The Interstate 5 off-ramps on Encinitas Boulevard, both northbound and southbound.
- Northbound, southbound, and eastbound at the intersection of North Coast Highway 101 with Encinitas Boulevard
- The intersection of Avenida La Posta and Rancho Santa Fe Road, westbound and southbound.
The seven cameras will be installed for three years as a pilot program to test whether the city could benefit from additional such devices, according to Lt. Chris Lawrence, who presented the proposal to the council at Wednesday’s meeting.
The program will cost the city approximately $40,000 over those three years, per estimates by the sheriff’s department.
Lawrence said the new systems would take photographs of license plates as vehicles move through the designated intersections, using software to scan the plates and alert sheriff’s deputies if the plate is flagged as being associated with a crime.
Lawrence said the license plate readers would help authorities deter, monitor and investigate criminal activity. For instance, the data collected will assist in tracking down stolen vehicles and vehicles reported in Amber Alerts or child abduction cases.
Additionally, the lieutenant said his devices would help combat the rising scourge of burglaries and thefts in specific city sectors, such as Olivenhain and downtown.
“The use of this technology right now is very important for us to try to leverage as we fight crime within these communities,” Lawrence said. “We’ve chosen to start in these specific areas for the devices because of crime mapping by our analysts. Olivenhain is especially affected by thefts and burglaries, and downtown has recently had a shooting, a couple of stabbings, and some fights on the weekends.”
Lawrence said license plate readers have already been utilized effectively by several law enforcement entities in surrounding cities, including Carlsbad, Oceanside, Escondido, and the city of San Diego. In Carlsbad, authorities reported recovering 430 stolen cars and making 470 arrests since implementing the license plate reader program.
At Wednesday’s meeting, city leaders expressed wholehearted support for the new devices, emphasizing the importance of giving the sheriff’s department as many legal tools as possible to combat crime.
“There are a lot of restraints on law enforcement, and the more technology we can introduce to prevent and deter crime, the better off we are,” said Deputy Mayor Joe Mosca. “Olivenhain, in particular, is an area where the deployment of LPRs could really help us deter crime and investigate crime.”
Mosca and the other council members said the main concern they have about the Sheriff’s Department’s new system is how the devices will impact privacy and civil liberties.
These concerns were voiced during the public comment portion of the meeting by longtime resident William Teeter.
“These systems will definitely improve public safety, especially for Amber Alerts, and the price seems reasonable,” Teeter said. “But we need to balance this surveillance program with privacy and civil liberties protections.”
Mosca said that he was highly confident that law enforcement agencies would not abuse the data collected by the license plate readers.
“Privacy is so critically important in a data collection process like this, but I know from my own research that the data you’re collecting cannot be used to give somebody a ticket or a whole host of other things like that,” Mosca said. “Instead, the data is specifically used…in relation to folks who are committing crimes in these areas.”
But the police departments in Carlsbad, La Mesa and Coronado came under fire last January after it was revealed they violated state law by sharing data from its license plate reader program with other law enforcement agencies outside of California, as first reported by inewsource.
In 2021, Chula Vista residents discovered that data from the devices was also being shared with numerous agencies, including federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
According to Lawrence, the information collected by the cameras will be stored through Vigilant, a private data collection company. In addition to the Sheriff’s Department, this data will be accessible to the following law enforcement agencies: Carlsbad, Escondido, Chula Vista, and San Diego police departments, and the county District Attorney’s Office.
Lawrence said the data would not be available to state or federal agencies.
Councilman Tony Kranz said he was concerned the seven cameras installed during the pilot program might not be enough to serve the needs of the Sheriff’s Department.
“The use of technology to be able to solve more of these crimes we’re seeing is really important,” Kranz said. “I’m concerned about whether we’re deploying this as much as we need to. It concerns me that even with this system, there are some exit routes in the city without this technology, so I’m wondering if we can cover even more exit routes.”
Kranz said he thinks the devices will ultimately prove fruitful for monitoring and deterring criminal activity and assisting the District Attorney’s office in having more evidence available to help procure convictions.
“I hope we can get a higher conviction rate and close more cases with this data, in addition to helping our deputies be better at doing their jobs,” Kranz said.