City Council passed a South Pasadena Police Department recommendation awarding a two-year contract to Flock Group Inc. to be used for 13 automatic license plate readers in a meeting last week.
The automatic license plate camera readers would be placed in optimally identified stationary locations throughout South Pasadena to capture objective data relevant to crimes. Per the City Council meeting, the cameras would help spot and locate a vehicle that has possibly been involved in a crime, ranging from theft to Amber Alert notices, and could provide the make, model, color and license plate of the vehicle to the city’s law enforcement.
City Council approved 30-day retention for Flock camera data and that, “data is property of the city and is not shared, except with local law enforcement agencies,” according to the SPPD presentation.
The three-part recommendation is to award the contract to Flock Safety cameras without exceeding an amount of $69,550, authorize the city manager to execute the agreement and make future amendments or extensions and to appropriate $9,550 from general fund reserves to the police department’s contract services account.
Upon approving the recommendation, the amendments made would require the city manager to bring the Flock camera program back to City Council for review within the allotted two-year contract period.
SPPD would be required to meet with the council after a year of Flock camera use for a progress report on the department’s statistics and data gathered from the ALPR cameras.
The city also received preliminary approval for a UASI award, a federal program providing financial assistance to high-density urban areas to be allocated toward public safety. This would potentially mean more cameras, in addition to the initial 13, by next year if City Council extends the Flock camera system, according to Police Chief Brian Solinsky.
Though City Council approved the initial locations of the Flock cameras, councilmembers gave Solinksy the ability to recommend alternative locations to gather data from the camera system and to consult and coordinate with neighboring law enforcement agencies for optimal camera locations.
The initial Flock cameras will be placed in important ingress and egress points throughout South Pasadena and are as follows: Fair Oaks Avenue and Columbia Street, Fair Oaks Avenue at the 110 Freeway exit, Fremont Avenue at Columbia Street, Fremont Avenue at Alhambra Road, Orange Grove Boulevard at Columbia Street, Orange Grove Boulevard at the 110 Freeway exit, Pasadena Avenue at Arroyo Verde Road, Huntington Drive at Garfield Avenue, Huntington Drive at Alhambra Road, Fair Oaks Avenue at Monterey Road, Hill Drive at Collis Avenue, Alpha Street at Valley View Road, and Meridian Avenue at Kendall Drive.
Apart from capturing crime data and information surrounding crimes relevant to South Pasadena, the goal for the city and the police department would be to join a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with neighboring law enforcement agencies that are also on the Flock camera system.
“Flock seems to be the preferred vendor for smaller municipal agencies. South Pasadena and east to Pomona — just about every [city] is on a Flock camera system. The benefit of that is, obviously, we can tie into their system and vice-versa. It’s really a force multiplier,” Solinsky said.
The police chief also noted a recent conversation he had with law enforcement colleagues in Pasadena, San Marino and Alhambra and said that these police departments would like to join in an MOU for “a vast coverage around the San Gabriel Valley.”
Alan Ehrlich, a former candidate for South Pasadena city treasurer, spoke out against the implementation of a Flock camera system in South Pasadena during public comment.
Ehrlich encouraged the council to reject the proposal and send it back to city staff and the public safety commission for more analysis and reconsideration.
“The staff report is quantitatively and qualitatively deficient and inadequate for the council to make an informed decision on this proposal,” he said.
Ehrlich argued that the Flock camera statistics city staff provided on the system’s effectiveness were selective and not viable. Ehrlich also commented on the cost of the system not aligning with the benefit of the system due to the current mobile cameras in SPPD vehicles. The current ALPR technology in police vehicles have been used since 2013.
Public commentor Omari Ferguson also voiced opposition to the plan, saying that the use of funds and a two-year contract with Flock, is not worth it.
Furthermore, Ferguson brought up a privacy and public security-based issue — false positives and data sharing.
Ferguson cited an instance in Colorado, when Aurora Police Department stopped and detained a Black family following a false positive from an ALPR system in August 2020. The Colorado police department apologized for stopping and detaining the family and blamed the ALPR system for misidentifying the family’s license plate with another vehicle that was stolen earlier in the year.
The California State Auditor, a state-recognized agency that works independently, found that, “the handling and retention of automated license plate reader (ALPR) images and associated data did not always follow practices that adequately consider an individual’s privacy,” according to a 2020 ALPR audit of four law enforcement agencies in California.
The four agencies listed in the state auditor’s report are Fresno Police Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Marin County Sheriff’s Office and Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office. None of these police departments currently host a Flock camera system; however, concerns about privacy and data usage remain the same, considering the joint-agency and data sharing agreements being made with agencies under ALPR systems.
According to Flock’s website, “Flock Safety serves 2,000 cities in 42+ states and is helping solve hundreds of crimes every day.”
“The four local law enforcement agencies we reviewed — Fresno Police Department, Los Angeles Police Department, Marin County Sheriff’s Office, and Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office — have accumulated a large number of images in their ALPR systems, yet most of these images are unrelated to their criminal investigations. Furthermore, agencies may be retaining the images longer than necessary and thus increasing the risk to individuals’ privacy,” CSA’s report said.
“State law allows law enforcement agencies to share ALPR images only with public agencies, and it requires such sharing to be consistent with respect for individuals’ privacy. Three of the reviewed agencies share their ALPR images widely using features in the ALPR systems that enable convenient sharing of images with minimal effort.
“Fresno and Marin have each arranged to share their ALPR images with hundreds of entities and Sacramento with over a thousand entities across the United States. However, we did not find evidence that the agencies had always determined whether an entity receiving shared images had a right and a need to access the images or even that the entity was a public agency. We are concerned that unless an agency conduct verifying research, it will not know who is actually using the ALPR images and for what purpose,” the report said.
In response to Ferguson’s comment regarding privacy and false positives on vehicles involved in crime, Solinsky said, “Mr. Ferguson mentioned that there have been minorities that have been stopped and put on the ground — the cameras do not do that. The cameras do not give your probable cause to go out and stop someone.
“What it does do is alert officers. They will go to the area, find the car and reconfirm (the license plate). Once they run the plates, and it goes through the national criminal information center, and confirmation comes in then there is probable cause …
“[The cameras] are simply a tool to alert you to a vehicle. That vehicle then has to be verified by law enforcement. Flock is the first to say [the cameras] are not 100% correct. A license plate could be misread, it’s very possible,” Solinsky said.