SOLANA BEACH — License plate reader cameras will be installed at various intersections throughout Solana Beach in a three-year agreement between the city and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Solana Beach joins a list of ten other jurisdictions that have chosen to install license plate readers to assist criminal investigations and deter crime. In the past two months, the cities of Encinitas and Del Mar, Solana Beach’s direct neighbors to the north and south, both approved their own agreements.
The Carlsbad Police Department recently expanded its license plate reader program with city approval despite a report showing law enforcement violated state law by sharing data with other law enforcement agencies outside of California.
Eight cameras are planned to be installed at four locations along major thoroughfares in Solana Beach at a $46,000 cost to the city for the next three years. These include one camera at Via de la Valle near Valley Avenue, two at Via de la Valle near Highway 101, two at Highway 101 near West Cliff Street, and three at the Interstate 5 offramp near Lomas Santa Fe Drive.
“These locations have been chosen based upon their popularity as ingress and egress points in the city,” said Lt. Christopher Lawrence, who also made presentations to the Del Mar and Encinitas city councils months prior.
Since the proposed I-5 location is owned by CalTrans and therefore could present challenges in obtaining the necessary permitting, the city is also considering two alternate camera locations — one camera at Santa Helena Drive near Lomas Santa Fe Drive and two cameras at Lomas Santa Fe near the entrance to the Solana Beach Plaza shopping center.
Rekor, the license plate reading software used by the cameras, can read a variety of plate types on vehicles traveling at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour and up to 75 feet away, Lawrence said. When the software detects a license plate that is part of an investigation, that information and a photo of the plate will be sent to sheriff’s deputies.
Data from the cameras will be used to identify license plates of vehicles suspected in Part One crimes, including homicide, robbery, rape, aggravated assault and grand auto theft. However, they cannot be used in minor traffic offenses like running a red light or speeding.
“Investigators and analysts have seen the increased use of stolen and rental vehicles used in their theft series throughout the state, so the ability to have an active, readily available alert to a stolen vehicle in the area is very helpful,” Lawrence said.
According to arrest data in 2022, 57% of Part One crimes in Solana Beach were committed by non-city residents, Lawrence added, increasing the need for these cameras to see what cars are leaving and entering the area.
In addition, only 22% of the stolen cars reported in the city in 2022 were recovered, according to a staff report — a figure city officials hope to see improve with this extra tool in their law enforcement belt.
District 4 Councilmember Jill MacDonald asked whether adding cameras in Solana Beach in conjunction with neighboring cities could help track vehicles traveling along the corridor.
“If both Del Mar and Encinitas are going to do this, is there a way to track, then, a vehicle that may have gone through a traffic light in Del Mar and moved on to Solana Beach?” MacDonald asked.
Lawrence said this could potentially happen if the vehicle traveled through multiple intersections where license plate readers had been installed. However, he added that the goal is not to cover the city with cameras.
“Right now, we would be able to track a vehicle if it went through very specific intersections,” he said. “But the goal is to not have it overly done. We’re really just focused on the ingress and egress points.”
Rekor data can be maintained by the department for up to one year unless saved as evidence as part of a criminal case and can only be shared with other San Diego County law enforcement agencies.