05_26_21_NEWS_ALPRs_2439

The Los Altos Hills City Council plans to employ automatic license plate readers, seen above in Portola Valley, but is looking to impose fines on any potential misuse of the data.

Los Altos Hills City Council members want to employ license plate reader technology to help nab the bad guys. But they also want to ensure that residents’ right to privacy isn’t threatened.

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier File Photo The Los Altos Hills City Council plans to employ automatic license plate readers, seen above in Portola Valley, but is looking to impose fines on any potential misuse of the data.

The council discussed last week appropriate penalties for any potential misuse of automatic license plate reader (APLR) data. The council approved an ordinance May 20 that adds ALPRs to the town’s municipal code to impose penalties on violators. But council members balked at what they deemed the inadequate financial penalties reflected in the current code, starting with $100 fines.

“One hundred dollars is not even a slap on the wrist,” Councilmember Linda Swan said.

Following council direction, town management analyst Cody Einfalt said he and town attorney Steven Mattas are working on establishing the maximum amount for fines that can be issued by a public entity.

The town’s current municipal code has a four-step penalty phase, with $200 for the second infraction, $500 for the third and a misdemeanor charge for the fourth violation within a year.

“I would like to peg this at the highest (fine) possible, whatever is permissible,” Mayor Kavita Tankha said. “It’s important to take the privacy concerns of our residents very seriously.”

“I agree it should be very high,” said town Planning Commissioner Jim Waschura. “It may be important to delineate the type of violation. ... My biggest concern is that some corporate entity decides that using this data might be good for training their machine algorithms or for some other purpose.”

In response to an increase in residential burglaries, the council adopted an ALPR policy in March regulating use, management and data retention. In April, the council passed a resolution authorizing an agreement with Flock Safety as the town’s ALPR vendor.

The plan includes 40 cameras at various locations, intended “to deter crime, alert law enforcement to known criminals entering an area, and help solve burglaries that have recently occurred,” a town staff report stated. Last week’s ordinance allows the town to impose penalties. According to town staff, the amounts for fines can be added into the ordinance without delaying its adoption. A second reading of the ordinance will be waived at the next council meeting, set for June 17, and it will take effect 30 days after that.

Because the town contracts with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services, the county Board of Supervisors must approve deputies’ use of the ALPR technology. A proposal is scheduled to come before the board of Supervisors at its June 22 meeting.