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A number of license plate readers at the intersection of Palomar Airport Road and Paseo Del Norte went into service on Dec. 20. Photo by Steve Puterski
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License plate readers go live at Carlsbad intersections

CARLSBAD — Approved on the promise of improved public safety, the city went live with 51 license plate recognition cameras at 14 locations on Dec. 20.

The Carlsbad Police Department touted the early success of the readers on social media recently noting two stolen cars were recovered netting three arrests in the first days the cameras were active. Additionally, a third stolen vehicle evaded police during a chase from Carlsbad Village into Oceanside where the alleged thief went against traffic to evade officers.

“After hearing about the technology and what it can bring to the table to help improve public safety and public welfare, I was just all for it,” resident Dan Weis said. “If it reduces crime in any manner, I’m all for it.”

It is a hot button issue in the city as many people were against the cameras during a March 2017 City Council meeting citing privacy, housing of the data and access to and protection of the information as concerns.

The cameras cost $807,025 to purchase and San Diego ARJIS will store the data from the cameras, which were purchased from Vigilant Solutions.

Proponents, meanwhile, note increasing safety, lowering crime rates and the trickle effect the cameras have in helping not just the Carlsbad Police Department, but neighboring agencies to apprehend criminals.

During the March City Council meeting, the staff report stated an increase in property crime such as residential burglaries, auto thefts and thefts from vehicles as a reason to enact the cameras. When a camera identifies a vehicle, the police will be notified immediately. The report stated those living outside Carlsbad’s borders commit a majority of property crimes.

Still, resident Jeff Lee, who works in IT at a pharmaceutical company and deals with cybersecurity, is staunchly against the cameras. He said the “Big Brother” effect may come into play, stating he is against any government tracking and using safety as a measure to usurp privacy.

When he questioned the Carlsbad Police Department, he said he was pointed to the city policy, which he called vague as to its applications and definitions.

“It feels like we, as a society, are willing to give up everything for some modicum of what we think is safety,” Lee said. “The policy is so vague it’s absurd. What qualifies as legitimate law enforcement? Is it monitoring car thieves or is it looking at license plates of people who maybe are activists and you are concerned they are coming into your city. I work in IT at a publicly traded company and I couldn’t get around a policy that vague.”

Dan Weis, meanwhile, wholly supports the cameras saying if they even drop crime a little, the investment is worth it. Unlike Lee, Weis said he is not concerned about privacy because he has “nothing to hide.”

Additionally, he’s not worried the Carlsbad Police Department will use the cameras to peer into vehicles, which it said it will not do. The only catch, however, is if a camera is at an intersection with a slope, then a driver or passenger’s face may be recorded.

The staff report states San Diego ARJIS will house the data for just one year and then scrub it, unless specific data is required for an ongoing law enforcement activities.

“A lot of folks think it’s invasion of privacy, they’ll have facial recognition and people are being tracked,” Weis said. “On the first day they caught three bad guys in stolen cars. To think about what the long-term effect is going to be, I’m very supportive of it.”

3 comments February 10, 2018 at 6:48 am – worth to see it

Douglas Taylor January 16, 2018 at 12:53 am

We are surrendering our civil liberties inch by inch. One person interviewed said he didn’t mind the cameras because he has “nothing to hide.” Then I guess he wouldn’t mind getting rid of the requirement for “probable cause” before his home is searched. Regular searches of homes in Carlsbad, conducted at random, would certainly catch some “bad guys” and anyone who has “nothing to hide” shouldn’t object — it would be for the “greater good” after all.

Next we’ll be told that we will be “safer” if drones follow us around every time we leave the house. It sounds like I’m joking, but fifty years ago what would you have said if I told you that, in the future, there would be 51 cameras around Carlsbad that would actually “read” the numbers on your license plate every time you drove by.

Think of this another way. What if we didn’t have cameras “smart” enough to “read” your license plate? In that case, to collect the this information, we would need to install guard stations at all roads entering Carlsbad. You would stop at the barrier and a police officer would write down your license plate number so that, later, it could be checked against license plate numbers on “bad guy” lists. How would that go over with the general public? But now technology has made possible a system that basically does the same thing — and because we don’t have to stop at a “Checkpoint Charlie,” it doesn’t seem as sinister as it actually is.

Oside Concerned January 8, 2018 at 10:58 am

If the pictures of license plates are taken using public funds on public property, I want to see a public record of all the photos taken. I want to see the photos!

If you don’t want me to see the photos of your license plate and you driving down the road, maybe we shouldn’t have photos taken of license plates and of the drivers in Carlsbad.

Next will be facial recognition… You’re trading yours and my right to privacy for the so-called convenience of security. Before you know it they will know when you head to the market, bar, beach, gas station and then they’ll manipulate pricing and placement based on your impulses in order to dupe you out of your hard earned freedoms.

Stop spying on the citizens… we are not numbers, we are people.

If you want to curb the number of stolen cars… find a way to ensure every citizen has adequate transportation GRATIS to work, play and other. For car owners… buy a GPS if your car is on the top 10 list of most stolen vehicles. Hell, you can steal mine; having to pay for pyramid insurance ensures I’ll get a new car anyways!

I don’t want you recording my habits as I drive through Carlsbad doing whatever.

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