New Police Community Board to Review Chula Vista Police License Plate Reader Data

Chula Vista is seeking to establish a police advisory council to review police programs, such as the automated license plate reader program, after an existing commission questioned its role/capacity in verifying data.

The policing community advisory board — a recommendation of council member Steve Padilla — would be tasked with analyzing police department programs and policies and advising city council on community policing matters, said City Manager Maria Kachadoorian in a Dec. 15 letter to Human Relations. Committee. The city council should receive a report on the new council, which may indicate who and how members will be selected, at an upcoming meeting.

His memo was a response to concerns raised by human relations commissioners, who have been tasked with reviewing data collected by license plate readers. According to the council’s letter to the city, members said a more appropriate body with “people equipped to engage in data-sharing technologies, civil liberties (and) politics” would be a better fit.

The Chula Vista City Council recently voted to exempt the Human Relations Commission from receiving any future reports from the police department.

Last month, the commissioners expressed relief at plans to create a police commission, but stressed the need for the group to continue to hear from the community on related issues.

“I still believe we’re a great force to be able to support community dialogue, community forums, community space to really ensure that those oversights, whether it’s the police (commission) or whether it’s working with that consultant, that we continue to support the creation of community engagement, discussion and dialogue,” said Commissioner Ricardo Medina.

Local activists who called for an end to the license plate reader program and the need for independent oversight of police data echoed the commission’s position.

“While or even if (the Human Relations Commission) may not have a role in overseeing (the license plate program) in the future, I want to encourage you to keep learning and think specifically about police surveillance technology,” Nancy Relaford, a San Diego resident and retired director of library security at the University of California, told the board.

At a recent meeting, the Human Relations Committee received the latest quarterly report on the Reading Program from Chula Vista Police Captain Eric Thunberg. The report was considered the last the commission would receive.

The program collects data from license plate readers via cameras mounted on police vehicles. Law enforcement says it’s an essential tool to help identify stolen or wanted vehicles, missing persons and other investigative work.

The department previously shared information with federal agencies including immigration and law enforcement about clients. At the request of city council, the police department ended data sharing with all federal agencies and told council members last year it would provide quarterly updates to the Human Relations Commission on its data.

Thunberg shared a brief presentation on data collected between October and December 2021, which is posted publicly on the city’s website. website.

Between those months, the surveillance technology detected 29,732 license plates and of that amount, readers got 10 hits, meaning they were stolen or wanted in connection with a crime, Thunberg said.

The number of detections and occurrences has steadily dropped since January 2021. For example, between January and March, the program detected over 137,000 plaques with 112 occurrences. The drop is due to one of the department’s four cameras being out of service due to maintenance issues, Thunberg added.

A heat map for the last quarter showed that most detections occurred in southwestern areas of Chula Vista. The marshals wondered if this area was over-supervised.

Thunberg said the vehicles don’t drive through town at any given time, but “go where the officer goes” on service calls and pick up the available car. He added that “it looks like that and it’s a concern and we’ve talked about” dispatching the vehicles.

Medina said “one conversation is not good enough”, and reiterated that a body of experts that takes a close look at the map and breaks down the data presented is needed.

The creation of a police commission would come after Chula Vista council members earlier this month approved a contract with a public relations firm that will establish a task force to develop a nationwide surveillance policy. from the city. City staff said Thursday that applications to join the task force will be available next week.

The Human Relations Commission said it would hold a future discussion on the task force and the police commission.

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