New License Plate Readers Helping to Fight Crime in San Francisco, Mayor Says

New License Plate Readers Helping to Fight Crime in San Francisco, Mayor Says

An automated license plate reader is seen mounted on a pole in San Francisco on June 13, 2024. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Sophie Li
Sophie Li

6/14/2024

Updated: 6/17/2024

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The first 100 license plate readers installed at dozens of intersections in San Francisco have led to arrests, contributing to a drop in crime, authorities said June 12.
Mayor London Breed said in a press release that the cameras, installed on utility poles along Ninth Avenue and Irving Street, led to arrests for organized retail theft, carjacking, robbery, sexual assault, and more.
“This new technology is just one new tool we are using that is helping us make San Francisco safer for all and it is delivering results,” Ms. Breed said. “This shows the impact that technology can have in assisting our officers in doing their work and is sending an important message to those who think they can come to our city and commit crimes.”
The San Francisco Police Department began the installment of 400 cameras at 100 intersections and other locations in late March. The remaining 300 will be fully operational by July, according to the mayor’s office.
The cameras are funded by a $17.3 million grant from the state’s Organized Retail Theft Grant Program, which will also support other law enforcement initiatives and the District Attorney’s Office.
Flock Safety, a Georgia-based security system company, will be responsible for installing and maintaining the cameras.
The San Francisco Police Department’s May crime data show a 13 percent drop in violent crime compared to the same time last year. This includes a 38 percent decrease in homicides; a 33 percent reduction in property crime; and an 18 percent decrease in robberies.
Police reported that the cameras have been particularly effective in identifying stolen cars and other vehicle-related crimes. Data indicate that car theft has decreased by 18 percent—nearly 500 incidents—and theft from cars has also dropped by 50 percent during the same period.
“These 100 cameras have been a massive help to our police department,” Police Chief William Scott said in a video posted on X. “In just a few weeks, we’ve received thousands of hits on stolen or wanted vehicles leading to numerous arrests and recovered property.”
While the cameras can help overcome practical limitations on police manpower, opponents have expressed concern over their potential invasion of privacy.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit digital-rights group, said in a statement shared with The Epoch Times that with some cameras capable of reading thousands of plates in minutes, the data can potentially reveal a vehicle’s travel history. When algorithms are applied to the data, the cameras can identify regular travel patterns and predict a driver’s future whereabouts, the group said.
A report by the foundation from 2021 also revealed that data from 63 law enforcement agencies in California showed only 0.05 percent of the data collected by the plate readers was relevant to public safety at the time of capture.
“The [automated license plate reader] is a powerful surveillance technology that can be used to invade the privacy of individuals as well as to violate the rights of entire communities,” the foundation said in the statement.
The group added that such cameras sometimes misread plates, which could result in innocent people being targeted by law enforcement.
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Sophie Li
Sophie Li
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Sophie Li is a Southern California-based reporter covering local daily news, state policies, and breaking news for The Epoch Times. Besides writing, she is also passionate about reading, photography, and tennis.

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