Oakland Councilmembers Hope to Extend Use of License Plate Readers Amid Recent Crime

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As Oaklanders continue to demand action to end a wave of violence in the city, councilmembers are hoping license plate readers can help solve and maybe even deter more crimes.

“We need to leverage every technology and resources that’s available to address this unchecked lawlessness and rising violence,” said Oakland councilmember Treva Reid.

Councilmembers Reid and Loren Taylor, both running for mayor, represent districts wracked by violence. They said they're now working together to urge the council to approve Oakland police’s privacy policy on the license camera technology that has been debated for months. 

“Once we address what has been broken and needs to be fixed and repaired of the current system. Then, we can aggressively move towards expanding and upgrading what this could do,” Taylor said.

License plate readers have been used for years to identify stolen vehicles and track down suspects. But privacy advocates have long argued the technology does more harm than good. Now, Oakland needs to update the system's outdated software that’s making data hard to track.

“We’ve got people making false promises and selling false hope,” said Brian Hofer, Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission Chair.

OPD’s new policy would allow them to keep data for a year. Critics and privacy watchdogs are concerned with how the information is being used and if it’s being shared with third parties, including other government agencies after OPD admitted keeping information longer than needed.

“With the way OPD is operating, fully admitting that they are not following their own use policy, I have no idea what they are doing with this technology. What I do know that it is not reducing violent crime,” Hofer said.  

Oakland police believe enhancing the technology will help address solve more crimes, the city’s chief privacy officer agrees but said more other improvements are needed as well.

“Most of the data is only relevant in those first six months. If the department can upgrade the technology, do a better job of reporting, how they are using it and how effective it is, then, I think people will be more comfortable,” said Oakland Deputy City Administrator Joe DeVries.  

The question is can they increase safety and address privacy?

Councilmembers Taylor and Reid said yes but it needs to happen now for Oakland’s sake.

“We can keep ourselves safe and use these technology,” Taylor said.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has released the following statement:

“I commend Councilmembers Loren Taylor and Treva Reid for prioritizing public safety and bringing a vote to the City Council that will authorize the responsible use of license place readers and reject further delays. Utilizing technology to identify stolen vehicles and track down individuals involved in serious crimes is something our police can do right now if we let them and I believe the City Council should act right now to approve the use of critical technology.”

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