After several hours of sometimes spirited discussion on Tuesday (Sept. 24) night, the Menlo Park City Council voted 5-0 to approve the purchase of three automated license plate readers and four surveillance cameras, but delayed deployment of the technology.
The council opted to draft a privacy ordinance for the city as well as a memorandum of understanding with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), the agency that will store the license plate data, to govern data retention and sharing. The regional agency is one of more than 70 centers nationwide affiliated with the National Fusion Center, which is under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security.
NCRIC representatives were on hand to answer questions last night. They stressed that the data is for use by law enforcement agencies, although data may also be provided to private sector companies categorized as "critical infrastructure" when evidence suggests those companies are potential targets of terrorist or criminal activity. See this week's cover story for more detail.
Councilman Rich Cline suggested that the Menlo Park police department be notified when another law enforcement agency accesses the city's license plate data and that the city be able to audit such requests; Ms. Keith wanted to include a clause in the MOU that requires the police department to approve any other agency's request.
The issue of surveillance cameras posed less of a dilemma, although where the cameras would be mounted remains to be determined. The council and police department shared stories of residents in Belle Haven as well as Sharon Heights requesting coverage in light of recent crimes.
The equipment "is not a silver bullet. It is not going to stop all crime everywhere," Police Chief Bob Jonsen told the council, but it will help with investigation.
The cameras and license plate readers will be paid for with $107,682 from Menlo Park's general fund and $20,000 from a state law enforcement grant. Ongoing costs for this equipment are expected to be $6,500 annually.
See next week's print edition of the Almanac for expanded coverage of the Sept. 24 council meeting.