License Plate Reader Program Moves Forward

License Plate Reader Program Moves Forward

At its Sept. 20 meeting, the Alameda City Council voted to execute an agreement with Flock Safety to purchase, maintain and install 35 fixed automated license plate readers (ALPR) at different Alameda locations.

The motion passed with a 3-2 vote with Councilmember John Knox White and Vice Mayor Malia Vella voting against the installation. Alameda Police Department (APD) Capt. Matt MacMullen gave a presentation to the council at the meeting. MacMullen told the council APD chose Flock Safety, an Atlanta, Ga.-based company that builds and maintains ALPR cameras, as its ALPR vendor because “they have a proven commitment and record of accomplishment of never selling of sharing data.”

“Their solution provides short retention that complies with our policy,” said MacMullen. “Flock Safety adheres to the stringent search audit trail safeguards and their system does not use facial recognition or predictive policing software. Nor does it collect or store any personal identifiers in the data.”

After the council approved the city’s ALPR policy at its April 5 meeting, (“Council Approves Automated License Plate Reader Policy,” April 8), APD sent out a request for proposal for a vendor that will produce and maintain the cameras. APD received six proposals, with Flock Security being selected. “Flock ALPR cameras are currently used by over 1,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide and 45 or more within California,” said MacMullen. “Their proposal was the most inclusive response by exceeding the expectations outlined in the RFP.”

The plan is for Flock and APD to install the 35 cameras at 14 locations in Alameda. The plan initially was to place the cameras at different entry and exit point in the city. However, APD said adding more ALPR locations would help APD solve crimes more efficiently.
“When we made this proposal, we thought that by design of the city of Alameda, that we could place these cameras at all the entry and exit points,’ said APD Police Chief Lt. Nishant Joshi. “However, as we gathered data, we noticed that the driver of our crime in Alameda is larceny. About 68 percent of our crime is larceny. Most of the crime is in or around our business districts. So, we looked for an opportunity for us to position our cameras in entry and exit points and also create an overlap in these vulnerable areas where crime is prevalent.”

Many speakers at the meeting voiced concern with the city installing fixed ALPR cameras. One resident said she would feel more unsafe as a black woman with the police having access to watch her as she drove in business districts. Joshi assured the council that police officers will not access footage in real time and the cameras will only record still photos of vehicle’s rear license plates. (He did say the still photos might be able to capture the back of a driver’s head.)

Another speaker, Havana Cheer, found the Flock contract troublesome.

“Already this surveillance of our community has been slipped across,” said Cheer. “It’s a reversal of some of the guidance that was given by our community through the subcommittees on racial justice police reform. This was not their intent. The ACLU wrote a pretty significant paper around Flock as a company.”

Among the concerns expressed against Flock in the ACLU paper, written by Jay Stanley, is that Flock does not have a system of checks and balances.

“For one thing, there are no checks and balances on the use of this database. The lack of proper checks on the behavior of law enforcement is well established — and studies suggest improper use of ALPR in particular may be widespread. Nor are there adequate checks on Flock,” wrote Stanley.

Joshi said the department and Flock will produce a Personal Privacy impact report to the council that will detail APD’s use of the system. All data will be stored in’s database for 60 days.

The total cost of the five-year contract will be $499,427.13. MacMullen recommended that unspent General Funds, allocated for APD personnel costs, be used for the initial purchase price of $111,802.13.

The council also approved a motion to update several APD policies at the meeting.