Newsom announces 480 license plate reader cameras in Oakland and East Bay freeways

A total of 480 new license plate reader cameras will be installed in Oakland and on East Bay freeways, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Friday.

Newsom's office said that 290 of the cameras are expected to be deployed on and around surface streets in Oakland, and 190 cameras will be deployed along state highways in the East Bay

Exactly when these cameras will be installed and how much they will cost have not been revealed. 

But Chris Iglesias of the Unity Council said he got a call from Newsom's office on Friday morning. 

He was told that the cameras would go up any time between one month and six months.

"I think it is great if they can make that happen," Iglesias said. 

He said he hopes the cameras will address some of the "immediate public safety issues. Hopefully it will have an impact."

Newsom said that the California Highway Patrol has entered into a contract with Flock Safety to install the cameras to "combat criminal activity and freeway violence." 

Newsom said the camera network will use technology that allows law enforcement agencies to identify vehicle attributes beyond license plate numbers, enabling the CHP, the Oakland Police Department, and other agencies to search for vehicles suspected to be linked to crimes and receive real-time alerts about their movement.

"This investment marks another step forward in our commitment to bolstering public safety and tackling organized crime and roadway violence in Oakland and across California," Newsom said in both a written and video statement. "With the installation of this 480 high-tech camera network, we’re equipping law enforcement with the tools they need to effectively combat criminal activity and hold perpetrators accountable — building safer, stronger communities for all Californians."

Newsom's office was not available to answer any direct questions about the installation. 

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said that improving public safety and addressing quality of life issues in Oakland is her "top priority."

In a joint statement with the governor, Thao said that this new camera network will "help us stop crime and hold more suspects accountable."

The camera network will also allow police to search for "crime-linked" vehicles by type, make, color, license plate state, missing/covered plates, and other features like bumper stickers, decals, and roof racks. The system also enables real-time crime alerts, alerting authorities when a suspected crime-linked vehicle is spotted by the network.

Addressing privacy concerns, Newsom's office said that the cameras will retain the videos for 28 days, and that footage will not be disclosed to third parties beyond California law enforcement, meaning that it won't be shared with ICE. 

While last year, the CHP reported a drop in freeway shootings, KTVU has noted that from 2021 to 2023, Bay Area freeway shootings are double that of Los Angeles. 

Many have cited the lack of cameras on the highway as one of the many reasons that shooters continue to fire off their guns without consequences. 

Immediately, there were critics of the plan. 

Cat Brooks, founder of the Anti-Police Terror Project, questioned Newsom's "investment" in Oakland, citing how much the cameras will cost. 

"For every dollar we spend on surveillance cameras, that’s a dollar not spent on proven public safety strategies," Brooks said in a statement. "We are concerned by both a state and city in massive budget deficits and the largest homeless population in our city and across the country. When we decide to deploy 480 new cameras, we should be asking how many people could be housed with the money we spend on this, how many people could be trained to do living wage jobs."

In her opinion, Brooks said that Newsom's announcement "is merely an effort to burnish his reputation nationally. Yet it’s coming at the cost of the people of Oakland. The approach is adopting the same failed strategies we’ve taken for decades. We’ve never stopped sending people to jails, yet crime keeps rising because it’s an approach that doesn’t work."

Brian Hofer, chair of the Oakland Privacy Commission, said that he's never seen a map of where the cameras will go. He also noted that the state of California doesn't have the strict privacy rules that Oakland has, and which he helped write to prevent people from being mass surveilled. 

"The biggest unknown question is whose rules we are playing by," Hofer said. "The more accumulation of data, there's a greater privacy risk. People are acting on fear and they think these cameras will solve on their problems."