Danville is set to become the latest Bay Area community to utilize license plate reader technology after the Town Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a police department proposal to bring the cameras to more than a dozen street intersections and six police patrol cars.
Aimed at helping investigators solve and deter crimes, the effort to bring automated license plate readers and companion situational awareness cameras (sitcams) to Danville comes with almost $840,000 in initial costs, according to police chief Steve Simpkins. The program is expected to be fully implemented by the end of the year.
"This right here will absolutely be money well spent," Councilman Robert Storer said toward the end of the 25-minute discussion at the Town Meeting Hall. No citizens commented about the camera proposal during the public meeting Tuesday night.
"As far as I'm concerned, you could start it tomorrow morning," Councilman Mike Doyle added.
License plate recognition technology is among the solutions -- short-term and long-term -- the Danville Police Department is using to combat an uptick in crimes that the town has seen the past two years, according to Simpkins.
"From law enforcement's perspective, license plate cameras enhance crime prevention and criminal investigations by first and foremost discouraging criminals, alerting us to stolen or wanted vehicles and providing investigators with data on vehicles leaving the scene of crimes," the police chief told the council.
The reader cameras capture images of vehicle license plates, compare that information to law enforcement databases and alert officers to vehicles of interest, according to Simpkins.
The intent of the program is to identify vehicles, not their occupants nor integrate it with facial recognition software, he added.
The companion sitcams, which will be placed at the same intersections as the reader cameras, take real-time footage for investigators to review in situations when vehicles without license plates are tied to a crime, Simpkins said.
The police chief tried to allay potential privacy concerns, telling the council the program is intended to serve as investigative tool after crimes take place and only law enforcement investigators will have access to the data.
"Once a crime occurred, we have the ability to go back and look and get a lead to work on, where we wouldn't have had that lead before," he added.
Other East Bay cities have successfully utilized similar readers, including nearby communities such as Pleasanton, San Ramon, Dublin, Lafayette and Pittsburg, Simpkins noted.
"This technology is being used all over the Bay Area, and quite frankly all over California and beyond," he said, adding that he's talked to fellow police chiefs statewide about the readers and he heard "high marks from everyone involved."
The department plans to mount license plate readers and sitcams on traffic signals or light poles at 13 Danville intersections, including Danville and El Cerro boulevards, El Cerro and Interstate 680, Diablo Road and Camino Tassajara, San Ramon Valley Boulevard and Sycamore Valley Road, and El Capitan Drive and Crow Canyon Road.
Police will also sitcams to Oak Hill Park as tools to provide investigative leads and deter after-hours loitering and vandalism at the park, All Wars Memorial and Oak Hill Park Community Center.
The proposal calls for 36 fixed readers and 33 sitcams overall. Mobile readers would also be mounted on six existing patrol vehicles -- three readers each -- to provide additional coverage throughout the town, according to Simpkins.
The program will have $839,360 in initial capital costs, which includes purchase, installation, data storage and licensing. Implementation will integrate reader technology from Vigilant Systems and sitcams manufactured by Hitachi.
There will be $139,348 in estimated annual operating and replacement costs going forward, the chief said.
Initial purchase costs would be funded through a new capital improvement program (CIP) project with $839,360 in available CIP general purpose funds. Next year's annual operating costs would be part of the police services budget, and future equipment replacement costs would require new capital funding starting in 2017-18, according to Simpkins.