Long Beach, News

Council members vote yes to fund ALPR equipment, residents frustrated

Long Beach City Council was met with angry outcries from residents during Tuesday’s meeting after they unanimously voted to fund automated license plate recognition (ALPR) equipment for the Long Beach Police Department.

The LBPD requested to buy $1.2 million in ALPR gear that would gather and analyze data to rapidly identify the location of people and vehicles. ALPR systems consist of high-speed cameras that photograph license plates and put them into systems that compare the images to a list of plates.

The reported use of the equipment would be for speed checks and solving various crimes.

Long Beach residents expressed concern during the meeting about how this new system would impact their safety and privacy. An ACLU investigation found that more than 80 local police departments have shared their ALPR data with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

With consistent scans and data collection over time, movements and patterns can give detailed pictures of people’s lives. In addition, data sharing is a high risk of confidentiality breaches and other violations of private interest.

2/7/2023 Civic Center, Long Beach, CA
2/7/2023 Civic Center, Long Beach, CA Photo credit: Cheyenne Elizarraras

Inaccurate reads were another cause for apprehension with this technology. With a 35% error rate, ALPR misreads can become dangerous. One example of this occurred in Colorado, when a woman was detained because her vehicle was incorrectly identified as a stolen motorcycle from a different state.

“The underlying basis for the use of this technology is crime and terrorism,” said Jennifer Benitez, a member of The Philippines Organization of Solidarity. “May I remind you, LBPD already has military-grade weapons at its disposal?”

While some residents considered it spy gear, the Long Beach council members and the LBPD considered its safety and security.

“Is it perfect? Heck no, but technology is where it is,” said councilmember Al Austin, who approved the ALPR funding. “You can’t commit a crime and get away with it without some form of technology catching up with you.”

ALPRs first came to Long Beach in 2005. By 2020, the LBPD had shared data collected from ALPR technology with Homeland Security Investigations, a division of ICE, the US Customs and Border Protections National Targeting Center and multiple other federal and local agencies.

“The people who are stealing are stealing a lot of our identities, the data that is so sacred,” said Danny Padilla, development manager at the Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.

Members of the Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and other organizations voiced their exhaustion with this technology violating privacy and targeting minority communities.

“This technology is linked to deportation and family separations,” Padilla said. “Trust is earned and LBPD has not and will not be able to earn the trust of the immigrant community.”

Residents at the city council meeting yelled and sighed as the council unanimously approved the recommendation to provide the LBPD with $1.2 million worth of ALPR equipment.

2/7/2023 Civic Center, Long Beach, CA The empty councilmember chairs are awkwardly vacated after a heated debated about LBPD equiptment.
The empty councilmember chairs were vacated after a heated debated about LBPD equipment. Photo credit: Cheyenne Elizarraras

A majority of the crowd left the meeting in frustration, which left an air of tension for the duration of the meeting. The council members concluded the meeting just before 9 p.m.

“‘Our communities are not threats, they’re beautiful,” said resident Tanya Navarro. “LBPD has already shown they cannot be trusted with ALPR technology.”

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