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Encinitas to install license plate readers in effort to combat crime

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Posted at 5:54 PM, Nov 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-18 20:54:40-05

ENCINITAS, Calif. (KGTV) — Encinitas will become the first local city which contracts with the San Diego Sheriff's Department for law enforcement services to install license plate readers. The devices, which opponents say violate privacy rights, are used to solve crimes and deter new ones.

“The Sheriffs Department has found the license plate readers to be an effective tool to fight crime," said Encinitas City Councilmember and Mayor-Elect Tony Kranz. The council voted unanimously this week to approve a contract for seven cameras, which will be located in spots near where there have been recent upticks in crime, including the busy intersection at Encinitas Blvd. and Coast Highway.

The readers capture images of all vehicle license plates that pass by. They get automatically uploaded to a database that, in real time, searches to see if that plate is wanted in connection with a crime. Investigators can also search the database after crimes to see if suspect's vehicles were in the vicinity of the crime scene. “Having this as a tool to discourage criminals from coming into Encinitas and then if they do, to be able to catch and convict them is, I think, important," Kranz told ABC 10News.

Opponents to license plate readers site concerns about how the data is used and collected. Other municipalities have protested after finding that law enforcement has shared collected data with other agencies, including immigration agencies, though Kranz said his understanding is that this will not be the case in Encinitas. Other concerns include the risk that the data collected could be stolen. A state audit in 2020 found that there was a risk that license plate data could be misused or stolen via a data breach, citing four law enforcement agencies across the state which had failed to comply with state laws regarding data collection issues.

Those concerns were discussed during the Encinitas City Council deliberations, though Kranz said he was satisfied with the Sheriff's Department's answers. “That’s the old big brother fear. I get that, 1984," Kranz said, referencing the classic dystopian novel written by George Orwell. "The reality is that we’re in a situation nowadays where we need to take advantage of all the tools that we have to fight crime.”

The contract for the cameras and software is for three years.