Carlsbad expands controversial license plate scanning program

CARLSBAD, Calif. — The city of Carlsbad plans to add automated license plate readers at 14 locations along busy roadways and on more police cruisers in an effort to improve safety.

The Carlsbad Police Department has used license plate readers in a limited capacity since 2011, but the City Council approved an expansion of the project last week on a 4-1 vote. The city will replace two of its four vehicle mounted readers, acquire four additional ones and will purchase 51 fixed readers to be used along main thoroughfares.

The scanners automatically record license plate numbers and an image that contains a small portion of the car, along with the date, time and location, according to city officials. They can be used to help locate stolen cars, in Amber Alerts, to connect a series of crimes and can serve as a crime deterrent.

The devices do not capture images of motorists, collect other identifying information or give police access to DMV records. The data would also be erased after a year.

“DMV and other personal information is not part of the license plate reader system. That information can only be accessed by an authorized police employee who has a legitimate law enforcement purpose, whether or not a license plate reader has captured a license plate number,” officials said in a statement on the city’s website.

The move prompted residents and one city council member to raise concerns over privacy rights and government control, The San Diego Union Tribune reported. Councilwoman Cori Schumacher, who cast the dissenting vote against the project, said additional license plate readers would create a “geofence.”

“This would greatly affect the private lives of our citizens,” she said.

City officials in the statement said meetings like those held when police officers began using uniform-worn cameras would be scheduled so residents and business owners can ask questions and gain a better understanding of how the license plate readers work.

The project will cost the city about $807,000 in equipment costs and $800 a month for wireless connectivity, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.