The council chambers were filled to capacity for a special meeting on March 13, 2018. Two agenda items – approving stationary license plate readers, and providing the Culver City Police Department with drones – drew intense community response. The approval of LPR died for lack of a motion after several hours of presentation and discussion, but the request for drones was approved by a vote of 3 to 1. Council member Megan Sahli-Wells was the dissenting vote, and Vice Mayor Thomas Small was not present for the meeting owing to a medical issue,
The LPR were to be installed at traffic signals in a fashion similar to red light cameras, only photographing the back of the car to get the make and model along with the license. The company that sells the service, Vigilant Solutions, presented Kyle Hoertsch, formerly of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department to offer statistics to support the effectiveness of the system. CCPD Chief Scott Bixby noted that the force had already used an LPR system that was mounted on police vehicles, but the company they had purchased the technology from had gone out of business, making it difficult to maintain the units. It was noted that the city also currently has LPR technology in the parking garages downtown.
More than 50 Culver City residents showed up to speak out on the topic. Among them, Jon Melvin, who offered his back ground in database development as the seat of his concern. “Database concerns are quite problematic, and once we collect the data, it can be used in ways we don’t want.” His worries that this technology could threaten or undermine Culver City’s Sanctuary City status were echoed by many other speakers.
Paula Amazola, a Parks and Recreation commissioner with the city, also stood on her professional technological knowledge. “I know how easy it is to access these systems and make errors. We need to be very cautious about data. One year ago we made a commitment to be a sanctuary city, and we need to continue to honor that commitment.”
More than a few simply balked at the price tag. Resident Gerald Weiner was mildly shocked ” This goes for $562,000 – with no bids? Why can’t we put this out for bids. There no reason for this to be handed to this company.”
The overwhelming concern among the Culver City residents was that this data would weaken or even nullify the status of Sanctuary City, being vulnerable to third party interference as well as court orders that would open the information to ICE. More than thirty of the people who spoke to the council specifically cited their support for Sanctuary City as the heart of their objection to employing the system.
When it was the council’s turn to discuss the matter, Council member Goran Eriksson noted that the item approved in budget earlier this fiscal year was for less than half that price.
While the concerns of expense, technological over-reach, and possible misuse of the data all had pros and cons, the matter was killed on a technicality. Requiring a four-fifths vote (as an approval of a budget item) at a meeting when only four council members were present, a single dissension would have meant defeat. As no one on the dais made a motion to call a vote, the agenda item died for lack of a motion.
The item to give the CCPD drone capability did not have a four-fifths requirement as a perimeter, and was passed 3 to 1, with Sahli-Wells voting against.