At the Monday, May 8, 2023, City Council, the vote was three to two to approve Culver City Police Department’s contract for an Automated License Plate Reading system. Similar to the ALPR system already being used in all the downtown parking garages, but this system will be focused on car traffic using the public streets.
The contract for service, with Flock Safety Group, will commit the city to five years of street surveillance.
CCPD’s Lt. Andrew Bellante, who made the presentation to the council, offered that “cameras are placed on pubic roadways, and not on private property, and that facial recognition technology is not being used as a part of this package. “All authorized users are required to complete department training before being granted access to the ALPR system.”
According to the report, the first year cost of the system will be $148,200, with the lease of the cameras from Flock costing $130,000 and a one-rime fee of $18,200. Subsequent years are projected to cost $130,000 a year, for the lease of the cameras and software, and processing of the data.
Several of those speaking from the floor who opposed the system questioned how the data could be protected, and the unknown future of the information gathered automatically. Margaret Peters spoke to the meeting, saying “This seems like a really dangerous precedent… how do we know that other California agencies will comply with these policies? How do we know if another [federal] administration will come in and make it impossible for Flock to comply with our [local] laws? And finally, how are we paying for this? If this is coming out of the police budget, are we cutting [officers]?
Rick Solomon, who offered that he was not a resident, but a business owner, offered his perspective on a Homeowners Association that used the cameras, and felt they fell far short of the mark. “If these [vehicles are used] stealing lawnmowers from the gardeners or catalytic convertors…how do we know that the registered owner of the vehicle is the one [committing the crime] ? We are wasting about $2,200 per year per camera … I don’t think we are going to renew it.” He offered that police departments might do better with the equipment.
Vice Mayor Yasmine Imani McMorrin noted the lack of transparency from the police. “We want to be responding in to issues of crime in our community …we used to receive, and I think the public was able to view, quarterly reports, but it’s difficult to see where we are [when we don’t have the data.] I think Council member O’Brien noted that last report we received was for the third quarter of 2022. …I am concerned about the RIPA [state mandated Racial and Identity Profiling Reports] data, and …those quarterly reports used to be monthly reports. Now we are looking at [compiling] more data … that has the potential to be used in ways that can be harmful. Our civil liberties are at stake.”
Mayor Albert Vera, Jr. promoted the efficacy of security cameras by noting the role that footage from 7-Eleven had played a role in helping to solve a murder. Chief Jason Sims agreed that they had been able to get the license plate and it had helped to track the suspect. “Our detectives utilized that lead to track the suspects.”
The motion for approval was made my Council member Eriksson and seconded by O’Brien. The vote was three to two, with both Council member Freddy Puza and McMorrin opposed.