Piedmont police arrest 33, recover 37 cars using license plate readers in 2023

There's a new focus on the use of license plate readers, as more Bay Area cities and police departments discuss plans to adopt the technology.

The city of Piedmont has a network of 39 license plate readers, set up at intersections throughout the city. Cameras scan the license plate of every vehicle that drives by.

If the plate comes up as stolen or connected to a serious crime, police get alerted immediately. 

"You can't have a cop on every block," Piedmont Police Chief Jeremy Bowers said Thursday. "We look at the ALPR technology - the license plate reader technology - as a force multiplier.

Piedmont has had license plate readers for more than a decade. It was one of the first Bay Area cities to install them back in 2013.

In a report to city leaders, Piedmont police department shared the numbers from 2023, saying its network of cameras alerted police about suspicious vehicles 1,200 times and led to 33 people being arrested, and 37 stolen vehicles recovered.

"We've had cars and homes that have been broken into, and the police have said, 'Don't worry, we have the plates,' and they were able to track them down later," said resident Emily Wines. "It gives that extra sense of safety in the neighborhood.


More license plate readers are coming to Bay Area, but do they work?

Cities around the Bay Area are lining up to get automated license plate readers, but the data shows mixed results at best.

City leaders in Oakland and Berkeley approved their use last year.

In March, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a plan to install 480 license plate reader cameras across the East Bay. 

Not everyone thinks it's a perfect solution.

Privacy advocates have raised concerns about this technology and say cities that are larger and more spread-out than Piedmont may not have enough police officers and other resources to use the camera system effectively.

"We're in a city that's relatively small," Bowers said. "It's not a one-size-fits all solution. But for us, it's been a game-changer."

The Piedmont Police Department plans to add nine more of these license plate readers, to its existing network of camera.