Community policies vary widely in the United States on just how long to keep criminal surveillance photos of license plates taken by license plate-reading cameras. In New Hampshire, photos not linked to a crime are supposed to be deleted after three minutes, whereas in New Jersey, they're kept for five years, according to a presentation prepared by Portola Valley Town Manager Jeremy Dennis.
Such cameras are coming to Portola Valley and the photos they take -- available to deputies from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office -- will be on file for a year in a database operated by the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. The intelligence center is a law enforcement cooperative funded by the Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative and one of 78 so-called fusion centers located around the country, many in major urban areas.
The Town Council voted 4-0 on Wednesday, March 22, with Councilman John Richards absent, to approve an ordinance that includes authorizing an allocation of $265,000 for the purchase and installation of the cameras, an agreement with Vigilant Solutions of Livermore for camera purchase and service, and a memo of understanding with the intelligence center for database and investigation services.
Installation, which includes poles and electrical and wi-fi connections, is expected to take 16 to 18 weeks, Mr. Dennis said in the report.
The council's decision reflects the sense of alarm that came to this semi-rural and upscale community following two brutal and unprecedented home-invasion robberies, one in June 2016 and another in October 2016.
Residents have set up at least 10 neighborhood watch groups, and sheriff's deputies have made themselves available for community meetings on home security. The town's Architectural & Site Control Commission is studying how to revise residential design guidelines to reflect greater concern for home security.
The council previously debated the question of license plate-reading cameras at least three times before the robberies occurred, always coming down on the side of wait-and-see, given a lack of evidence of the cameras' consistent effectiveness in actually helping to solve crimes. But the two robberies, particularly the October 2016 incident in which a resident was reportedly injured, changed things.
After the October robbery, Mr. Dennis surveyed residents with a one-question poll: "Do you support the purchase of automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) for use in Portola Valley?"
Of 742 responses, 583 (or 78 percent) said "yes," Mr. Dennis said at the time. One-hundred-thirty-seven residents answered "no," and 14 did not express an opinion, he said.
Mr. Dennis's report proposed up to four cameras: at the border with Woodside, at Alpine Road and Westridge Drive, at Alpine and Arastradero Road, and at Arastradero and the original Alpine Road that runs along the southern side of Los Trancos Creek in Santa Clara County and connects to Creek Park Drive in Portola Valley.
Two of the cameras may prove unnecessary, however.
The unincorporated community of Ladera sits between Portola Valley and Interstate 280. Mr. Dennis reported that it's likely that the camera at Westridge and Alpine will be unnecessary in that the county would buy and install one east on Alpine Road. Such a camera would capture traffic into and out of Ladera as well as Portola Valley. The county would pay for that camera, reducing Portola Valley's costs by about $74,000.
The camera planned for Arastradero and Alpine roads will be sensitive enough to also capture traffic entering and leaving the intersection at old Alpine Road, Mr. Dennis said.