Portola Valley license-plate cameras show some value in tracking criminals | February 20, 2019 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - February 20, 2019

Portola Valley license-plate cameras show some value in tracking criminals

by Dave Boyce

With 12 months of images captured by the two pole-mounted license-plate-reading cameras located at the borders of Portola Valley, the results are in: Images from the town's cameras were searched 15 times in 2018, including 10 searches related to local property crimes such as theft and burglary, according to an audit prepared by the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office.

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."


2 people like this
Posted by CrimeAndPunishment
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 20, 2019 at 5:55 pm

Quite a high number of stolen plates and/or vehicles for this out-of-the-way town. BTW, what differentiates a stolen plate from a stolen vehicle (i.e., are there actually 368 plates reported stolen on vehicles differing from CA DMV registration vehicle?)

31 people like this
Posted by 0 Convictions, 0 Arrests
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 21, 2019 at 11:44 am

So after a full year's worth of costs and collections, the very best we can hope for is 1 arrest, maybe, "very soon".
Searches of the system do not equate to success of the system.
Seems like a rousing success in wasting a bunch of our money.

Like this comment
Posted by back in Kansas, Toto...
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 21, 2019 at 11:56 am

All that Sturm und Drang about how it was going to save PV from the wave of violent thugs?

"We are very, very close to *AN* arrest"


Yes the system already had mistaken access, 'suspicious' access and more. You know how it goes: that jealous officer's old gf, well, ya see, he had to check up on her new bf and how often he drove into town. And what times he came for a late visit.

I sure hope the new bf isn't one of your kids. You just gave 'access' for someone to give him a really hard time.


"A fourth search was done in error, Corpus said, while the fifth involved "suspicious circumstances"... "

Also: what was the down time over the last year?

3 people like this
Posted by back in Kansas, Toto...
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 21, 2019 at 12:01 pm

Apologies for the Dorothy reference. Given the massive 'success' of this program, I should have referenced Mr. Fudd. My bad.

"We are very, very close to *AN* arrest"

Vewy, vewy close.

Be vewy, vewy careful!
E. Fudd., Rabbit Fire, 1951

2 people like this
Posted by Victim of theft
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2019 at 5:38 pm

So how many license plate/ car thieves live in PV or Woodside?

Shouldn't be too hard to deduct a pattern of the stolen plates/vehicles moving repeatedly through the reader and then intercepting those cars when they show up again.

That actually would be a good use for the system I could support.

3 people like this
Posted by Liars living in fear
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 24, 2019 at 6:59 pm

Too funny. Thot this was gonna keep us safe.

Made no diff.


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