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City Eyes Smaller License Plate Camera System

Piedmont Police Chief Rikki Goede recommends a more affordable, scaled-down version of the proposed license plate reader system that would install the cameras at about a dozen entrances to the city rather than at all entry and exit points.

Piedmont Police Chief Rikki Goede said Tuesday she will recommend 10-12 locations for the proposed license plate readers on poles at city borders, rather than on all streets leading in and out of the city.

The cost of purchasing and installing a full system at all 24 entrances and exits to the city would cost well in excess of $1 million, according to estimates compiled by city staff and quotes from the company that would supply the cameras, 3M.

"The reality is that we need to be prudent about this fiscally," Goede told Patch.

She said she currently plans to present her recommendation to the council at its May 6 meeting.

Piedmont's license plate reader proposal generated a small media blitz Monday following a front-page article about it in the San Francisco Chronicle.

"This is not new technology," said Goede, who said she was surprised by the sudden surge of media coverage. "We're not the first city to do this."

She also noted that there had been some misunderstanding of the license plate readers, which take still photos of license plates and the front of vehicles.

In response to privacy and civil liberties concerns, she said the devices are not video cameras and are not designed to capture drivers' faces. She said the red-light cameras in many jurisdictions are far more apt to capture faces than are the license plate readers.

In response to questions about the city's plan to retain the data for a year, she said that the backlog for police labs to process evidence can be six months to a year.

Piedmont's consideration of a license plate camera system comes in the wake of rising burglaries in the past year, plus two home-invasion robberies in one day in January. On Feb. 4, the City Council asked the police department to obtain a quote for placing license plate readers at all entrances and exits of the city.

A report by Goede prepared for the March 18 council meeting laid out three options for such a system:

  1. Full implementation at all entrances and exits to the city
  2. Phased implementation over two to three years
  3. Install cameras at 10-12 major roads entering and leaving the city, while providing more mobile cameras for patrol cars. (Piedmont police now have one mobile license plate reader for use in a police car.)

Her report indicated that the cost of option one, including implementation, would be well above $1 million. At that meeting, the council asked Goede what she would suggest, and she indicated the third option, she said.

The council asked that the city's Public Safety Committee review the third option, which it did at its meeting last Thursday, April 4, Goede said. The committee concurred with her recommendation, she said.

The choice of the 10-12 locations would take into account how heavily used the roads are and the areas that have the most crime, she said.

She said no estimate is yet available on the cost for the smaller-sized system and that the city is awaiting a quote from 3M.

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