In one case, a Portola Valley camera played a role in an ongoing investigation, Sheriff's Office Captain Christina Corpus told the Town Council on Feb. 13. "We are very, very close to an arrest," she said.
Corpus noted that the Sheriff's Office's camera in the unincorporated community of Ladera, a camera linked to a system as yet unavailable to Portola Valley, revealed vehicles passing by that were stolen or fitted with stolen license plates.
The 15 searches of data from the Portola Valley cameras, listed in a staff report, represent a small portion of the 1,430 logins in 2018 to a collection of license-plate-camera resources by authorized Sheriff's Office users. The branches in that office authorized to use this collection include the patrol bureau, vehicle-theft task force, investigations unit, gang-intelligence unit and crime-suppression unit, the audit says.
In addition to the 10 property crime-related searches, the cameras were searched in one case of sexual assault, one of fraud and vandalism, and one involving a traffic collision, the report says.
A fourth search was done in error, Corpus said, while the fifth involved "suspicious circumstances" in which a town resident reported being on a balcony and exchanging words with strangers below, who then drove away, a sergeant also present at the Feb. 13 meeting told the council. A subsequent search of camera images for suspicious vehicles was unproductive, the sergeant said.
There were 124 logins to the Portola Valley cameras from Town Hall, of which 65 were by Public Works Director Howard Young and 23 by Town Manager Jeremy Dennis. Both officials logged in to check on the system's operational status, not to search the database, the staff report says. Dennis logged in eight more times: seven for demonstration purposes and one connected to a Sheriff's Office review, the report says.
Vigilant Solutions, the Livermore company that stores the town's camera data, logged in 28 times "for various non-search tasks related to updates, staff inquiries and maintenance," the report says.
No hit list yet
Portola Valley owns its two cameras — located at the town's border with Woodside on Portola Road and on Arastradero Road near the intersection with Alpine Road — and had planned a third at the town's border with Ladera, but abandoned the idea after learning of Sheriff's Office plans to install a camera to capture Alpine Road traffic into and out of Ladera and, by default, Portola Valley.
Over a recent six-month period, that camera acquired close to 14.68 million license plate images, Corpus said. Matching plates to a "hit list" of plate numbers stored in law-enforcement databases revealed 368 vehicles carrying stolen plates, 126 vehicles that had been stolen, and two in which the vehicle was owned by someone wanted for a crime, she said.
Hit-list data is not yet available to check against the images from cameras in Portola Valley because, in the view of the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, Portola Valley is not seen as a law enforcement agency, Dennis said.
"Moving forward," he said, "we want to make sure that that's not the case, and if the way to do that is to have some additional relationship with the Sheriff's Office, we will do that."