Orinda Approves Surveillance Cameras, License Plate Reader System

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A few of the residential and vehicle burglaries in Orinda are being solved, despite the overall low crime rate.

The situation could improve further as the council has already approved the installation of automated license plate reader cameras, which is a pair of 2 on a patrol vehicle, plus 8 surveillance cameras within strategic locations nearby residential roads and freeways that could feed from smaller neighborhoods.

The rollout was approved last week, and under a pilot program will cost nearly 7,000 dollars, mainly for the surveillance cameras, while 16,000 dollars more for the 2-camera license plate reader system.

Mark Nagel, the Police Chief will report to the council after a year so as to review the developments of the technology and to discuss the results. The report will include any increases when it comes to the solved rates for both auto and residential burglaries by the police department, which, as of now is only between 4 and 5%.

The Police Chief blamed the low rate of solving burglaries partly due to the lack of capabilities in identifying evidences like DNA, fingerprints, and pictures from cameras, including lack of witnesses. Witnesses and victims have been fearful of possible retaliation, according to Nagel.

On the other hand, Lafayette was able to solve 33% of similar crimes. Eric Christensen, Lafayette Police Chief said the resolution of such cases were mainly because of camera systems. Aside from the 12 installed community camera systems, including the installed cameras by residents, Lafayette has 3 other vehicles that are equipped with the license plate reader system, one mobile unit, and several dozens of cameras throughout the city.

Some Orinda leaders have expressed their doubts regarding the license plate readers, although the majority of them supported the technology. A councilman suggested to initially try the surveillance cameras over the license plate readers.

Another leader, a councilwoman mirrored the suggestion, considering the cost as well as privacy issues. She said she wouldn’t feel comfortable with the existence of license plate readers because the data could go anywhere and wouldn’t know who have access to such. In the end, the councilwoman voted against the program solely.

The license plate readers are governed by the Sheriff’s Office of the Contra Costa County from which Orinda gets police service contracts. The mayor questioned if there were adequate new tools in making a difference, worrying there is insufficient and not creating an impact eventually.

The recent approval covers months of discussions and analyses between the city leaders, law enforcement, and residents about privacy concerns, the collection, storage, access, and sharing of captured data.

Based on the city data, the approval also follows a spike in auto and residential burglaries after a significantly quiet new year. There had been 7 residential burglaries that were reported until May, up from 6 in April, and only 4 in March, according to the police chief. The burglars have also been busy in stealing from vehicles as there were 15 auto burglaries reported until March, plus another 8 just this month.

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Katrina Bell is an investigative journalist and is a correspondent for European Union. She is based in Zurich in Switzerland and her field of work include covering human rights violations which take place in the various countries in and outside Europe. She also reports about the political situation in European Union. She has worked with some reputed companies in Europe and is currently contributing to USA News as a freelance journalist. As someone who has a Masters’ degree in Human Rights she also delivers lectures on Intercultural Management to students of Human Rights. She is also an authority on the Arab world politics and their diversity.

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