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.