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Victorville’s ALPR System Proves Effective in Crime Reduction Amidst Privacy Concerns

VICTORVILLE, Calif. (VVNG.com) — With the final phase of the Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) program concluding last year, Victorville authorities are reporting a substantial impact on crime detection within the city.

Data from the ALPR system was presented to the City Council covering the 2023 year, which marked the program’s final phase of the ALPR camera installment.

Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) are sophisticated devices positioned to recognize and record the license plates of passing vehicles. They are equipped with high-speed cameras that capture not only the license plates but also record when and where the vehicle was observed, often including the date and time of the sighting. In certain instances, these cameras may capture images of the vehicle’s occupants as well.

The data captured is then cross-referenced against a database of vehicles of interest, often termed a “hot list,” which may contain information on stolen cars, vehicles associated with warrants, or those implicated in criminal activities. When there’s a match between the recorded license plate and the hot list, known as a “hit,” the relevant law enforcement agency, such as the local sheriff’s department providing police services to Victorville, receives an instant notification.

The cameras generate a perimeter within and around Victorville and are typically mounted on traffic signal poles and intended to be a tool to help local police departments in solving crime faster. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department operates the computer-controlled cameras.

Officials have announced that in 2023, the cameras resulted in 374 hits, leading to 96 arrests with various charges including auto theft, robbery, assault, domestic violence, and even terrorist threats.

License Plate Reader (VVNG.com undated file photo)
License Plate Reader (VVNG.com undated file photo)

The ALPR technology, embraced by the city in 2019, has allowed local police to quickly recover stolen vehicles, identify vehicles carrying missing persons, and stay ahead of criminal activities. The system seems to fit into a wider strategy of implementing advanced technology to bolster public safety and security without significantly increasing manpower.

During the years 2021 and 2022, the City’s Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) cameras registered 1,981 notable detections, which facilitated 373 arrests for a range of criminal activities. These activities spanned from auto theft and robbery to attempted murder, assault/domestic violence, and child abuse. The system was also instrumental in retrieving illegal narcotics and firearms.

The City’s Strategic Plan Goal B aligns perfectly with the ALPR program’s objectives, centering upon adopting public safety strategies to nurture a safe environment as Victorville grows in population. This advanced technology provides real-time alerts to deputies when a known wanted vehicle is identified, enabling swift action for potentially dangerous situations.

However, in concert with the program’s success stories, concerns about privacy have been persistently voiced by the community. Since the system’s inception, privacy advocates have criticized ALPR for its potential to collect data on residents not suspected of any crimes, painting detailed images of citizens’ whereabouts that may infringe on individual rights and freedoms.

The middle ground in this debate was addressed during the council meeting when highlighting the program’s effectiveness while acknowledging citizens’ reservations about mass surveillance. Local authorities have continuously reassured the community that the captured data is only accessible for law enforcement purposes and investigations.

Victorville’s significant investment in the ALPR system – to the tune of approximately $1.3 million – stemmed from a 2019 decision by the City Council, which saw the technology as a cost-effective measure for solving crimes. By 2021, Victorville was set to be monitored by over 100 high-speed, computer-controlled cameras, a testament to the city’s commitment to curb crime.

Authorities affirmed that data captured by the ALPR system would not be shared with federal or out-of-state agencies without informing the public, and its use would be strictly regulated within the realm of law enforcement.

As the City Council reviews the data, the balance between public safety and privacy rights remains a crucial dialogue. Yet, with the ALPR system fully implemented and contributing to a decline in vehicle-related crimes, Victorville stands as a case study in the growing use of technology in urban safety strategies.

Related Article: Victorville City approves installing 37 license plate recognition cameras (ALPR)


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