100 automated license plate reading cameras installed across San Francisco yield arrests

Automated license plate readers installed across San Francisco are helping law enforcement find and arrest criminals across the Bay Area, according to the office of Mayor London Breed. 

The city has installed 100 ALPR cameras so far, and another 300 are expected to be operational by July. The cameras are helping police to find suspects in criminal cases, and it's not just benefiting San Francisco. Other area police forces have also found suspects thanks to the help of the ALPR camera system. 

The city provided a few examples of arrests that were made using the system. On May 13, a woman with a no-bail warrant for organized retail theft was captured by the ALPR cameras in the Mission District, where she was arrested. 

On June 8, the San Jose Police Department was able to request support in search of a sexual assault suspect. The suspect's vehicle was picked up by cameras in the Taraval Police District. Police found the suspect at Golden Gate Park and took them into custody. 

San Francisco's ALPR cameras were funded by a $17.3 million grant from California's Organized Retail Theft Grant Program. Security company Flock Safety has been contracted by SF to install and maintain all 400 cameras. 

Mayor Breed and San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott both touted the success of the ALPR cameras.

"This new technology is just one new tool we are using that is helping us make San Francisco safer for all and it is delivering results," said Mayor London Breed. "This shows the impact that technology can have in assisting our officers in doing their work and is sending an important message to those who think they can come to our City and commit crimes."

Scott says the cameras have been a massive help to law enforcement. 

"I want to thank our officers for their outstanding work. Looking forward, we will be integrating our ALPR network with our other technologies, including technologies voters approved in March under Proposition E, like drones and public safety cameras," Scott said in a statement.

Privacy advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation said the recent arrests come at a cost to everyone as it is a loss of privacy. The city can track anyone, anywhere, 24 hours a day.

"Suddenly your entire day is being tracked and traced and that could reveal things you might not want public," said Matthew Guariglia with the Electronic Frontier Foundation."Who you visit in a day; what doctors you visit; what lawyers you visit."

At 9th Avenue and Irving Street where the city's first license plate reader was installed, David Valencia of Sunset Wellness said his pharmacy was targeted by burglars.

"They broke in at 4 a.m." said Valencia. "They were in and out in two minutes and the police were here in three."

Valencia said he is not sure the plate readers would have helped track down the burglars who broke into his business, but he thinks the cameras are a good move. 

"There's too much other stuff going on that we have to be able to monitor," said Valencia. "Some people may feel their privacy is infringed. But, it's security. It helps everybody."

Though some city leaders are happy with the cameras, there isn't sufficient data to prove that they help improve clearance rates. A clearance rate is found using the number of crimes that are charged divided by the number of crimes recorded.