Berkeley City Council Votes for License Plate Readers

The Berkeley Police Department (BPD) and the Police Accountability Board (PAB) gave presentations for and against the installation of Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) for the City Council on Tuesday, July 25th, 2023. Afterwards, the Council and Mayor held a vote, where ultimately, 6-1 voted for placing 52 of these cameras around the City of Berkeley.

First, Kevin Schofield and Joe LeDoux of the BPD gave a presentation explaining the new policies–See Policy 422 (page 942), which describes how ALPRs will be used, and Policy 1305 (page 950) that regulates data collection–that the BPD wishes to implement, along with an acquisition report (page 855). The acquisition report states that 52 ALPRs will be placed throughout Berkeley in locations that will be finalized by the vendor–which has not yet been chosen. The surveillance cameras will be up for a two-year trial period and are expected to initially cost less than $250,000. The BPD said the ALPRs will be used for California law enforcement purposes, including AMBER alerts and car jackings. In addition, these cameras will take pictures of license plates, not the people inside the cars, and the images will be deleted after 30 days, unless they are tied to a case, officers said.

Next, John Moore and Hansel Alejandro Aguila of the PAB and Office of the Director of Police Accountability (ODPA) gave their presentation. The PAB was against the implementation of ALPR devices, and stated that “if Council decides to proceed, they should defer the vote to address the concerns highlighted in the presented documents and refine the policies and acquisition report”. PAB officials said there was not sufficient evidence on the effectiveness of ALPRs, highlighting that a report from the Independent Institute and Secure Justice in 2021 found that ALPRs neither prevent automobile thefts, nor help the police generate leads. The PAB also pointed out that ALPR devices have a 10% error rate, meaning that 1 in 10 alerts of license plates matches the BPD will receive will be wrong. Additionally, Board representatives indicated that the acquisition report had many errors and seemed like it was rushed.

Before taking a vote, the City Council allowed time for public comment on the policies. One community member pointed out that ALPRs are easy to defeat. One could easily take off their license plate or switch it with another to get around the ALPR systems. In contrast, many UCB parents expressed worry for their children’s safety on campus and hoped ALPRs would keep them safe.

The City Council members then shared their opinions. Rigel Robinson, Berkeley’s District 7 representative, voiced concern that a two-year trial period for the ALPRs would not be long enough to collect sufficient evidence on the effectiveness of the cameras. Ben Bartlett said that he was against the implementation of ALPRs–explaining that the evidence for their effectiveness was sketchy at best. On the other hand, Susan Wengraf acknowledged that the ALPRs are imperfect, but said there isn’t a technology that is.

Ultimately, the Mayor and City Council voted 6-1 for the implementation of ALPRs around Berkeley. Kate Harrison was not present, Sophie Hahn abstained, and Ben Bartlett was the only one to oppose.

–Sabrina Zou

All League News