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Del Mar next for license plate readers

Follows Encinitas, Chula Vista, Carlsbad, Coronado

Cameras to be installed on northbound Camino Del Mar, westbound 4th St., westbound Via De La Valle, southbound Jimmy Durante Blvd., and southbound Camino Del Mar.
Cameras to be installed on northbound Camino Del Mar, westbound 4th St., westbound Via De La Valle, southbound Jimmy Durante Blvd., and southbound Camino Del Mar.

Del Mar will be the next city after Encinitas to install automated license plate recognition cameras, equipment that has sparked privacy concerns in other cities.

Del Mar's city council on Monday authorized the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to purchase and install the cameras on traffic signals at five locations at a cost of $28,790 for three years.

By using the license plate and vehicle recognition technology to track driver's cars randomly, police can glean data such as time, date and location and automatically compare the plate to a list of vehicles they are searching for.

"The data allows our deputies in the field to investigate serious crimes," such as homicide, burglary and child abduction, Lieutenant Christopher Lawrence said.

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According to an analysis in 2022, approximately half of suspects arrested in the city for serious offenses by the Sheriff's Department did not live in Del Mar. Only 13 percent of stolen vehicles were recovered in the city, a rate that would be greatly improved by using license plate cameras because the system is always active and gives live alerts, city staff said.

"The data allows our deputies in the field to investigate serious crimes."

Lawrence explained that if a stolen vehicle were to drive by, an alert would be sent to the dispatch center. To avoid a false positive, a deputy would compare the photo to other data.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department has identified several busy Del Mar intersections as the best candidates for "crime reduction and successful prosecution of individuals committing crime within the city."

One camera will be installed at each location: northbound Camino Del Mar / Del Mar Heights Rd; westbound 4th St / Camino Del Mar; westbound Via De La Valle / Jimmy Durante Blvd; southbound Jimmy Durante Blvd / Via De La Valle; and southbound Camino Del Mar / Via De La Valle.

Immigration and privacy rights groups have complained about a lack of transparency with the expanding system. In Chula Vista, critics of the cameras have called for their removal. After a news investigation found that driver's data was being shared outside California, violating state law, Carlsbad and Coronado changed their polices.

Council members asked how the data would be used.

Lawrence emphasized that data collection is limited to open criminal investigations, that the information can't be used to support, say, redlight cameras or speeding, unless the city wants to look into that. After 90 days, the data is discarded.

"My concern is about privacy," said council member Worden. "Are the readings public record?"

Lawrence said the data doesn't indicate who is the driver, that's not collected. A request can be made for public records "but we've successfully defended these due to privacy," he added.

"We don't want anyone's rights violated. We are making information available to investigators."

The councilman asked if a burglary were to occur at someone's address, and their car happened to be driving by, would they be contacted as a potential suspect?

"That's where the job of detectives comes in," Lawrence said.

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Cameras to be installed on northbound Camino Del Mar, westbound 4th St., westbound Via De La Valle, southbound Jimmy Durante Blvd., and southbound Camino Del Mar.
Cameras to be installed on northbound Camino Del Mar, westbound 4th St., westbound Via De La Valle, southbound Jimmy Durante Blvd., and southbound Camino Del Mar.

Del Mar will be the next city after Encinitas to install automated license plate recognition cameras, equipment that has sparked privacy concerns in other cities.

Del Mar's city council on Monday authorized the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to purchase and install the cameras on traffic signals at five locations at a cost of $28,790 for three years.

By using the license plate and vehicle recognition technology to track driver's cars randomly, police can glean data such as time, date and location and automatically compare the plate to a list of vehicles they are searching for.

"The data allows our deputies in the field to investigate serious crimes," such as homicide, burglary and child abduction, Lieutenant Christopher Lawrence said.

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According to an analysis in 2022, approximately half of suspects arrested in the city for serious offenses by the Sheriff's Department did not live in Del Mar. Only 13 percent of stolen vehicles were recovered in the city, a rate that would be greatly improved by using license plate cameras because the system is always active and gives live alerts, city staff said.

"The data allows our deputies in the field to investigate serious crimes."

Lawrence explained that if a stolen vehicle were to drive by, an alert would be sent to the dispatch center. To avoid a false positive, a deputy would compare the photo to other data.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department has identified several busy Del Mar intersections as the best candidates for "crime reduction and successful prosecution of individuals committing crime within the city."

One camera will be installed at each location: northbound Camino Del Mar / Del Mar Heights Rd; westbound 4th St / Camino Del Mar; westbound Via De La Valle / Jimmy Durante Blvd; southbound Jimmy Durante Blvd / Via De La Valle; and southbound Camino Del Mar / Via De La Valle.

Immigration and privacy rights groups have complained about a lack of transparency with the expanding system. In Chula Vista, critics of the cameras have called for their removal. After a news investigation found that driver's data was being shared outside California, violating state law, Carlsbad and Coronado changed their polices.

Council members asked how the data would be used.

Lawrence emphasized that data collection is limited to open criminal investigations, that the information can't be used to support, say, redlight cameras or speeding, unless the city wants to look into that. After 90 days, the data is discarded.

"My concern is about privacy," said council member Worden. "Are the readings public record?"

Lawrence said the data doesn't indicate who is the driver, that's not collected. A request can be made for public records "but we've successfully defended these due to privacy," he added.

"We don't want anyone's rights violated. We are making information available to investigators."

The councilman asked if a burglary were to occur at someone's address, and their car happened to be driving by, would they be contacted as a potential suspect?

"That's where the job of detectives comes in," Lawrence said.

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