Menlo Park council votes 3-2 for new law on surveillance data, video


In a rare 3-2 vote for the current Menlo Park City Council, a new ordinance governing the use of surveillance data by law enforcement took the first step towards implementation last night, despite the police department's opposition.

Data captured by automated license plate readers must be destroyed after six months, unless it pertains to an active criminal investigation or court order, according to the terms of the ordinance. Security camera recordings will be kept for 90 days.

Other law enforcement agencies that want to access the data must first get permission from the Menlo Park police department and agree to comply with the regulations. Penalties for unauthorized use include potential termination, criminal prosecution and civil liability.

The Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, which will store Menlo Park's license plate data, will provide quarterly reports showing the number of plates captured, how many were on an active "wanted" list, and who asked to review the data and why.

Police Chief Robert Jonsen urged the council to adopt a resolution, which is essentially a policy statement, instead of an ordinance, which is an actual law. Disregarding a resolution doesn't carry the same potential for local penalties as it does with an ordinance, but the crux of his argument was that severe sanctions for misusing data are already in place at the state and federal levels.

"It comes down to public trust," Chief Jonsen said. He pointed out that no other police department currently operates under such an ordinance, and "this department has never given this community any reason to feel it would use the information inappropriately."

He said the regulations could backfire by making other law enforcement agencies reluctant to use Menlo Park's data if they have to sign an agreement to comply with yet another layer of oversight.

The council members voting in favor of the ordinance – Ray Mueller, Kirsten Keith, and Rich Cline – said it wasn't a matter of trust, but rather of checks and balances and retaining local control.

"I understand what you're saying," Ms. Keith told the police chief. But look at the penal code, she said, which has penalties for all sorts of crimes. "It doesn't mean that we think everyone is going to commit a crime."

Given how new the license plate reader technology is, the long-term ramifications are not really clear yet, Ms. Keith continued.

Mayor Mueller, who served with Ms. Keith on the subcommittee that drafted the regulations, suggested that while Menlo Park might be the only city with such an ordinance for now, that could change if the law helps other jurisdictions feel comfortable about using the license plate readers.

He said he wants the ordinance to show that there's "a prudent middle ground," another choice besides "use (the technology) or not."

On the other side of the debate, Councilman Peter Ohtaki dissented, saying that he thought the controls already in place were adequate when combined with a resolution. The mayor pointed out that, unlike the ordinance, those controls don't address data captured by cameras, but this failed to persuade his colleague to change his vote.

Vice Mayor Catherine Carlton, casting the other dissenting vote, seemed more concerned about destroying the data after only six months. She said she supported the ordinance, but worried that the data will be less useful to law enforcement without a longer retention period, such as 12 to 18 months.

"Basically in an effort to show how great Menlo Park is" about protecting privacy, we're inhibiting the ability to catch criminals, Ms. Carlton said.

She pointed out that other agencies working with NCRIC went with a one-year retention span; the mayor countered that the California Highway Patrol keeps data for only 60 days.

Go to the city's website to review the terms of the ordinance. It will take effect 30 days after a second reading, provided the council doesn't reverse course.

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Like this comment
Posted by trust
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 14, 2014 at 12:33 pm

As Mayor Mueller pointed out, there is always one bad apple in every organization. We trust the police will follow their existing policies, which include being unable to fire bad cops that are arrested while naked and on duty in hotel rooms with hoockers that are being busted for selling drugs. When the department is unable to fire a cop like that, the residents need strick laws so that these bad cops will get a time-out in county jail before being returned to active duty. If cops break the ordinance, it is unclear anyone will ever know about it because they have confidential binding arbitration in their contract.

Like this comment
Posted by bad apples
a resident of another community
on May 14, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Mountain View cop arrested on suspicion of child porn possession, sale Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Steve Taffee
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 14, 2014 at 1:36 pm

I agree with the caution exercised by the Menlo Park City Council's action regarding a privacy ordinance and license plate readers. It is prudent to be vary cautious about such new technologies. One can loosen regulations later if needed. It's much harder to go the other way.

Like this comment
Posted by old timer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 14, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Our former State Senator Joe Simitian was an outstanding leader in protection of our privacy rights. He introduced SB-1330:

Web Link

asking data not be kept for more than 60 days.

which unfortunately did not pass into law.

Don't let our Police department take away our privacy.

Like this comment
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 14, 2014 at 2:48 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

Mt. View arrest is for a FELONY, and could be a federal case depending where the photos came from and age of victim. Hardly the same discussion on the web.

Like this comment
Posted by RokOnPolice
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 14, 2014 at 5:10 pm

I mean, what could possibly be wrong with plate readers?
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Sunshine Sam
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 14, 2014 at 5:33 pm

The public records act requires municipalities to keep video recordings for TWO YEARS. Where do these people get off thumbing their noses as California Law and shortening the time to 90 days??

Like this comment
Posted by Party Politics
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 14, 2014 at 5:33 pm

Anyone else notice the 3-2 vote went along party lines. The Democrats voted for the ordinance and the Republicans voted against it.

Like this comment
Posted by Thumbing their noses
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 14, 2014 at 9:23 pm

Sunshine, the ALPR data is not covered or protected under the FOIA.

Regarding Party Politics, even though Democratic leaders like San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed have been standing up to the police union and pushing for pension reform, there is no indication that pro-union elected Republican leaders like Redwood City Mayor Jeff Gee (whom Ohtaki endorsed) are acting along party lines when they push for the union agenda.

Like this comment
Posted by Sunshine Sam
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 15, 2014 at 5:33 am

@Thumb -

34090 of the CA Government Code says 2 years for every public record, unless specifically stated otherwise by statute. It does not call out ALPR records one way or the other for a longer or shorter retention schedule.

In my view, ALPR data is a record generated by the Government. It is indeed subject to the PRA. Whether one can successfully obtain that data through a PRA request is a matter completely separate from whether the Government must retain it the period defined in the law.

My original post was about VIDEO surveillance, something also considered in this ill-conceived ordinance. The retention of that material can be reduced to 1 year through a council resolution.

I question why the Menlo Park Council thinks it can reduce the retention period of any of this data to a period less than proscribed by state law.

Like this comment
Posted by PRA
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 15, 2014 at 9:22 am

The Menlo Park City Attorney Bill McClure worked with the subcommittee and actually drafted the ordinance. The Police Department wrote the transmittal that went to City Council. Neither raised any objection related to the Public Records Act at the City Council meeting.

Like this comment
Posted by please use that LPR data
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 15, 2014 at 10:24 am

One possibility is that Vasquez is the only officer to ever use a hooker while on duty, and he was busted during his first and only visit to a hooker. If not, I hope the Chief will use the LPR data to identify and bust all our officers that are regularly using hookers while on duty.

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2014 at 11:52 am

I am happy to see Menlo Park vote create such an ordinance. However, there are a few issues I'd like to suggest that ought to be ironed out, however.

For instance--

1) If the MP Police are not actually holding the data, which is held by another agency--this ordiance doesn't apply to them directly, does it?

2) If the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center fails, in any way, to protect this data, or to comply with MP instructions about its storage--who is responsible?

2) Images generally are collected on a daily basis. So, they would need to be deleted ninety-days hence. This could be done by the computer, without human intervention; however, if human intervention is required, then some deletions might take longer than 90 days. How should these overruns be handled?

3) How long should the MP Police Chief have to hold the requests for access to any images from other agencies? Will the requests from outside agencies themselves become public records--which can be readily provided to the public upon request (and in eForm)?

4) Will there be a threshold of need established by the MP Police Chief that might restrict some casual requests (fishing expeditions) by other law enforcement agencies?

Has anyone seen anything in writing from MP on this topic?

Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on May 17, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Who are they, talent and training for a safer society? Who has oversight?

Web Link

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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