Council hears update on city’s radar license plate reader audit

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In 2020, the Winters City Council authorized the use of funds from a Vehicle Theft Deterrent Fund to purchase a multi-use radar trailer equipped with an Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) and deployed it on Feb. 20, 2021. Since then, the ALPR radar trailer has been stationed primarily on Grant Avenue but was also purposefully moved to other strategic locations during the year.

At the Feb. 15 city council meeting, Winters Police Chief John P. Miller presented the first annual audit of the City’s ALPR traffic data collection system and programmable message board.

ALPR reads and records a license plate and compares it to a database of wanted vehicles, including stolen vehicles, vehicles associated with wanted persons and alerts officers that the vehicle is in the vicinity.

Miller noted some glitches were discovered in December 2021 that are being resolved. One of the problems presented was that the system wasn’t alerting officers of “hot list” vehicle hits by transmitting the information to their patrol vehicle’s mobile data computers.

Audits are required to be documented and maintained by the Winters Police Department’s Records Division and retained for a minimum of one year plus 13 months. Miller said the department recently launched a “transparency portal” on its website to share information and post department policies, such as the ALPR policy.

Users retrieving the system’s collected data are required to provide either an associated case number or a documented purpose for access to ensure that the system is only accessed for legitimate law enforcement purposes.

Miller explained that ALRP user agencies must enter an exclusive user-to-user Memorandum of Understanding to exchange collected data, but that law prohibits the sharing of information with federal immigration authorities. The collected data is prohibited from being shared with private companies and it is both the law and the City’s internal policy to share only with California agencies. In response to a question, Miller said data collected by the department’s ALPR belongs to the City.

A list of user agencies sharing ALPR data with Winters was presented in the council package. Miller advised that Winters has invited the City of Vacaville to share data, but has yet to receive its reply. Conversely, the City of Davis does not share its information with outside agencies.

Last year, when catalytic converter thefts were occurring, Miller said the trailer was strategically-moved into areas where thefts had been reported, and to areas where crime was taking place.

In certain situations, local wanted vehicles are placed on a “hot list” and into the system where they may remain no longer than one year. Miller reported four to five hot lists had been entered into the system, including his command vehicle’s license plate as away to test the system.

ALPR does not run license plates randomly to identify the vehicle’s registered owner, nor check for warrants, driver license status, nor the registered owner’s immigration status and does not use facial recognition nor other “intrusive” technologies.

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