Sunday, November 7, 2010

Smile, Your License Plate's on Town's Candid Camera

Subject: Smile, Your License Plate's on Town's Candid Camera

Smile, Your License Plate's on Town's Candid Camera
Updated: 3 hours 12 minutes ago
Print Text Size
Richard C. Paddock

Richard C. Paddock San Francisco Correspondent
AOL News
TIBURON, Calif. (Nov. 7) -- Drive a car into this affluent town on San Francisco Bay and you will be noticed. At least your license plate will.

The small community of Tiburon has begun photographing and recording the license plate of every vehicle that enters or leaves town. The goal is to catch criminals in an area that already has among the lowest crime rates in the state.

"We think it provides a great post-event tool for criminal investigation," Tiburon Police Chief Michael Cronin told AOL News. "Our geography limits access to the community to only two roads, giving us the opportunity to easily identify vehicles associated with crimes."
Smile, Your License Plate May Be on Calif. Town's Hidden Camera
Eric Risberg, AP
Tiburon, a town of 8,000 in California's Marin County, photographs and records license plates of all people entering and leaving town.

Tiburon is one of many communities around the country that increasingly are turning to technology to tackle crime, adopting such devices as police officer headcams, robots and laser scanners.

In Tiburon's case, recording the license plate of every vehicle is made relatively easy by its isolated location. Tiburon sits on a peninsula that juts into San Francisco Bay, and only two roads lead in and out of town. About 12,000 people live on the peninsula, which also includes the town of Belvedere.

Six cameras have been installed at key points along the two highways, one for each lane of traffic. The cameras photograph each license plate, and the photos are stored in a database that can be easily searched. The system also will be programmed to check whether any of the plates are linked to an Amber alert or a stolen car.

The system began photographing and recording license plates last week. Other features of the system should be operating by the end of this week, Cronin said.

But here in Marin County, a bastion of liberalism, dealing with civil liberties issues was tougher than installing the technology. Initially, the idea of bringing Big Brother to Tiburon did not sit well with some members of the community.

"It's beyond creepy," Tiburon resident James Bramlette, 34, told the Marin Independent Journal. "It's totally unnecessary, and it raises questions about what kind of community we live in. It's embarrassing."

Others, however, liked the safety aspect the technology provides.

"It's just like locking your door," Robin Pryor, 66, of Belvedere told the San Francisco Chronicle." "If [visitors] have reason for it to bother them, they shouldn't be coming in."

Cronin said the police department overcame resistance by incorporating a number of civil liberties safeguards into the system. The cameras will not photograph the occupants of any vehicle, unlike red light cameras used in many cities. The license plates will be searched only in an effort to solve a reported crime. And the photos will be stored for only 30 days.

"We are not going to amass this huge pile of data on who went in and out of Tiburon every day," Cronin said. "We are not even going to know that unless we think a particular vehicle had something to do with a crime."

One of the main goals, he said, is to reduce the number of burglaries committed by outsiders who drive into Tiburon and Belvedere.

"It's hard to get around in our society without owning a car, and most criminals do," the chief observed.

The decision to install cameras was prompted by the case of a well-dressed woman who drove to Tiburon in a Mercedes several times and stole mail from homes in quiet residential neighborhoods as part of a sophisticated identity-theft ring.

Cronin realized that being able to know what cars entered the town around the time of the thefts would have made catching her far easier. She was eventually arrested and convicted, but Cronin said, "That was sort of a catalyst for me."

Many communities have license-plate cameras, which can catch speeders and stolen vehicles. Such was the case last week in Washington, D.C., when police were investigating the apparent murder of an American University professor. They caught up with her stolen Jeep through a license-plate camera, according to The Washington Post.


No comments: