Portola Valley council says 'no,' again, to fixed license-plate cameras


After a two-hour discussion Sept. 28 revisiting the question of whether to install automatic license-plate-reading cameras at various locations in Portola Valley, the Town Council, by consensus stayed with its decision in 2015: wait and see.

Evidence of recent developments in camera effectiveness in solving crimes wasn't sufficient to warrant the council changing its position, Town Manager Jeremy Dennis said in an interview.

The topic acquired new life in June after a home-invasion robbery in central Portola Valley. The community responded by holding forums with law enforcement officials. The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office also increased its presence in town.

While crime in 2016 is higher than in 2015, it is lower than in 2014 and very low compared to other jurisdictions, Mr. Dennis noted.

Given the low monetary losses typical of property crimes in town, a staff report noted that the Sheriff's Office would likely not do extensive investigations for such crimes, and would likely not use what license-plate-camera data there was.

Academic studies of camera effectiveness have shown mixed results, sometimes depending on other steps taken in concert with use of camera data. "Generally speaking, there is a dearth of quantifiable studies that test the effectiveness of (the cameras)," the report said.

The Sept. 28 discussion engaged some 40 residents for about two and a half hours in the Community Hall. The speakers split about evenly in favor of and opposed to putting in the cameras, Mr. Dennis said.

The conversation was notable for the mutual respect exhibited on both sides of the question, Mr. Dennis said, a point also noted by Mayor Maryann Derwin in an email. "It was a remarkably respectful meeting, with many people speaking with competing views," she said. "I was really proud of the civility in the room and the thoughtfulness of the speakers."

A representative from the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, where camera data is stored, was present, as were sheriff's deputies.

There were concerns about privacy and a council majority concluded that the town does not yet meet criteria warranting installing cameras, Ms. Derwin said. She said she "essentially agreed" with the consensus, but that she remains open to the idea of installing cameras.

She was looking at the issue, she said, from the perspective of a world that is "random and scary," a place in which home-invasion robberies can occur where you least expect them. "When you're coming from a place like this (and) adopting catastrophic thinking, (cameras) make sense," she said.

Since the town has no plans to install cameras, the council directed the town manager to continue talking with Sheriff's Office deputies and with the regional intelligence center on any further steps residents can take to improve their security. Two possible steps: group purchases of surveillance cameras for residents, and annual meetings with deputies to review home security and neighborhood watch activities.


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Like this comment
Posted by Dick
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 6, 2016 at 7:51 am

Is the report mentioning that there are "studies that test the effectiveness of (the cameras)" available online? If not, any reference to a study that questions the effectiveness or proves ineffectiveness would be appreciated.

Like this comment
Posted by Craig Hughes
a resident of Portola Valley: Woodside Highlands
on Oct 6, 2016 at 10:13 am

@Dick -- the excellent staff report is available on the Portola Valley town website as part of the council agenda packet. It's pretty long/big (about 70MB PDF download), but a very good read, well put-together, and includes a lot of info on the sources used.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Dave Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Oct 6, 2016 at 10:17 am

Dave Boyce is a registered user.

Here's a link. Turn to Page 816.

Web Link

As Craig Hughes noted, it's a large file and takes a bit of time to download.

2 people like this
Posted by Dick
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 7, 2016 at 12:50 am

Craig, Dave, thanks for the links. It's indeed a good read (still have to read the attachments). I noticed in particular "that the capacity of law enforcement to investigate hits generated by ALPRs may somewhat limit the technology's success".
It may be of interest that here in Netherlands a trial has started to outsource the tracing of cars to certified private agencies, once the police ALPR generates a hit and the police is not able to follow up.

4 people like this
Posted by Richard Hertz
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Oct 7, 2016 at 7:54 am

No LPRs.

2 people like this
Posted by Portola Al
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Oct 7, 2016 at 1:14 pm

Given the low incidence of crime in PV I think its unnecessary and an invasion of privacy.

2 people like this
Posted by Burglary victim
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 8, 2016 at 8:53 pm

The amount of burglary loss in dollars was NOT reported by the town council. Only the incidences of burglary relative to other communities. There are other communities which ALPRs have successfully been used to apprehend stolen property, most recently Tiburon.

2 people like this
Posted by B Curtis Eaves
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Oct 28, 2016 at 11:12 pm

I assume the point that has been made, but I will make it again. A license reading and recording camera system could be easily be programed to never record movement for local license plates (eg. citizens of Portola Valley). With such a system, there is no loss of privacy, whatever, for locals. Aside from a moderate expense, I see no downside for a license reading and recording camera system for Portola Valley.

Like this comment
Posted by LawAndOrder
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Oct 29, 2016 at 11:31 am

The Wall Street Journal recently had a well-written article about affluent communities having illicit drug users, such as fentanyl and opiates home-delivered. Possibly a reason for anti-ALPR voices.

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

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