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By C. Jayden Smith

Although the City of San Clemente may appear to trail other Orange County cities in utilizing additional technology to aid its law enforcement, the city is progressing towards installing such devices.

City staff confirmed that they are working to install 15 Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR), as part of a decision package that was included in the Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget that the City Council adopted on June 15, 2021.

ALPRs convert data associated with vehicle license plates for purposes such as identifying stolen or wanted vehicles or plates, and can gather information related to active warrants and stolen property recovery, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Usage and Privacy Policy.

Once installed, San Clemente would join the list of OC municipalities using the technology such as Dana Point, where its City Council approved a contract for the installation and maintenance of ALPRs on May 17, and Los Alamitos, which started installing the devices on Feb. 2.

More than 20 cities’ police departments use ALPRs provided by either Vigilant Solutions or Flock Safety, according to a University of Nevada, Reno database.

The city’s FY 2022 budget appropriated $41,250 for the implementation of ALPR system, which had come to the City Council at the Public Safety Committee’s recommendation. Though the initiative is still in progress, the city wrote in an email to San Clemente Times that there hasn’t been a delay.

Councilmember Laura Ferguson referred to her own recent experiences with the devices, in that her own neighborhood in Talega also installed ALPRs more than a year ago after a rash of reported vehicle thefts, mail thefts, and numerous kinds of personal belongings were stolen from cars in the area.

The technology can be a deterrent to preventing crime and provides enhanced protection to communities, according to Ferguson.

“I think they’re very effective, and they don’t spy on people,” she said. “They’re not taking images of people, in their houses, etc.; they’re taking images of, specifically, license plates and vehicle details.”

Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan said he has heard anecdotally that ALPRs have increased the identification of stolen vehicles, and that he thinks the devices will be a benefit to San Clemente.

“I would say that I worked with these cameras at U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the border, because they’re used there to identify vehicles going in and out of the country,” he said. “They’ve been very, very effective in helping law enforcement identify those vehicles and track kidnapped children and other people that are being trafficked.”

Duncan added that he doesn’t think ALPRs intrude on privacy because they only capture license plates’ letters and numbers.

Additionally, OCSD’s usage policy restricts the operation of ALPRs to only be used for official law enforcement business, such as any routine patrol operation or criminal investigation. It also requires staff to complete OCSD-approved training before operating the equipment or accessing data, and limits an operator to only access OCSD, state, or federal data if authorized.

“It is the intent of the Department to ensure that the access and use of ALPR data is consistent with respect for individuals’ privacy and civil liberties,” the policy states.

San Clemente Police Services, OCSD staff, and city engineering staff have all been involved in the installation process, according to the city. The city did not name the contracted service provider, but confirmed it is working with staff to determine which locations the ALPRs should be installed.

Ferguson stated she would like to see the city expedite the installation process, and while Duncan said the ALPRs should be installed as soon as practically possible, he declined to call the matter urgent.

Mayor Gene James and Councilmember Steve Knoblock could not be reached for this article, and Councilmember Kathy Ward declined to comment.

C. Jayden Smith

C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.

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