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San Jose mayor installs 235th camera in the city featuring automatic license plate recognition

Mayor Matt Mahan said that the Flock Safety cameras helped the city arrest around 200 suspects and recover $2 million worth of stolen vehicles last year


Mayor Matt Mahan helped install an automatic license plate reader on the intersection of King Road and Wilshire Boulevard in San Jose, Calif. on April 23, 2024. (Nollyanne Delacruz/Bay Area News Group)

Nollyanne Delacruz/TNS

By Nollyanne Delacruz
Bay Area News Group

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Mayor Matt Mahan lent an extra pair of hands to put some of the first screws in a new automatic license plate reader camera at the intersection of King Road and Wilshire Boulevard, which city officials said will function as an “extra pair of eyes” overseeing the neighborhood.

It’s the 235th camera in the city featuring automatic license plate recognition, or ALPR, technology from Flock Safety. Mahan said that ALPR technology has helped the city arrest around 200 suspects and recover $2 million worth of stolen vehicles last year. He also said he plans to expand the city’s network of Flock cameras to 500 by this summer.

“It is home to many seniors and families who want it to be safer, and believe that this camera technology will help,” Mahan said in Spanish of the area where the camera was installed.

Peter Ortiz, the San Jose council member representing District 5 , said the intersection where the camera was installed has a high number of traffic collisions and hit and runs, and that this “extra pair of eyes” will allow police to catch reckless drivers and curtail criminal activity in East San Jose.

San Jose Police Chief Paul Joseph said he hoped the camera would deter people from committing crimes and make residents feel safe.

“No one thing that anyone’s doing is going to prevent crime,” Joseph said. “Hopefully there is a deterrent effect where people realize that coming to San Jose or being in San Jose and committing a crime, the likelihood of being caught is far greater with this use of technology.”

Danny Garza, president of the Plata Arroyo Neighborhood Association, said East San Jose residents have been asking the city for more public safety measures in the area for 15 years. He said that the city’s Strong Neighborhood Initiative, which launched in 2000, taught residents to advocate for themselves as they dealt with an ongoing crime problem.

“I’m proud for the community,” Garza said.

A combination of funds from the city’s general fund, allocations from last year’s budget, and a grant for tackling organized retail theft were used to fund the city’s network of Flock cameras. Thomas said each camera costs $3,000 to operate each year.

Josh Thomas, senior vice president of policy and communications of Flock Safety, said that the new camera operates via a combination of modern hardware and machine learning. The cameras are designed to take a photo of the cars passing by, and capture the state and number on the license plate as well as the color, make and model of the car. Thomas said that law enforcement can use a search function in Flock’s program to search with the features of the car to narrow down suspects’ vehicles.

Although ALPR technology is increasingly popular among Bay Area city officials, privacy advocates continue to express concerns. Mike Katz-Lacabe, director of research with Oakland Privacy, said that what’s unique about San Jose’s network is that the data is stored for a year — in other cities, like Oakland, it is held for only 28 days — increasing the risk of the information being exposed in a data breach.

In California particularly, there are worries that the stored data may be shared with agencies that target undocumented immigrants. Katz-Lacabe said that, although there is a law in place to stop California agencies from sharing information with out-of-state agencies, information can still be shared unofficially while police departments work with these agencies on joint task forces.

“If it’s shared unofficially, there’s a lack of accountability,” Katz-Lacabe said.

Katz-Lacabe encouraged drivers concerned about privacy issues to be aware of what their local governments are doing and educate themselves about what ALPR cameras look like, and lobby officials to amend issues in their privacy policies.

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