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Petition gauges Hills residents’ interest in license plate surveillance

ALPR
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
A pole-mounted ALPR system in Portola Valley.

Los Altos Hills residents curious about the possibility of implementing automatic license plate readers (ALPR) in town may tune into next week's city council meeting for a presentation about the technology.

Resident Rajiv Bhateja, a longtime proponent of ALPRs as a crime deterrent, is expected to deliver the presentation near the beginning of the meeting, scheduled to commence via Zoom at 6 p.m. Feb. 18.

Bhateja previewed his presentation and made a case for ALPRs during an interview with the Town Crier Wednesday (Feb. 10). Ideally, he would like to see 20 pole-mounted systems installed at strategic entry and exit points throughout town. He is particularly concerned about residential burglaries, which are on the rise locally; residents reported 31 burglaries to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office in 2020 compared to 21 in 2019.

Bhateja has not been a victim of a residential burglary since he moved to Los Altos Hills, but he recounted the burglary of his apartment in Berkeley, when he was a student. He lost a VCR, a television and some money.

“It is important to give people a sense of safety and security around their home, because I do remember when I was burglarized, it wasn’t so much the monetary cost; it was the sense of security and the violation,” he said. “You know, in your home, people tend to have a certain sense of relief when they’re in their own home, and it really turns that upside down.”

The cost of ALPRs has significantly decreased since 2018, when Bhateja last briefed the council about the technology. Back then, the installation of 20 cameras might have cost as much as $1 million, he estimated. Now, however, there are companies that offer subscription-based models with approximately $150,000 per camera as a one-time cost, or $2,500 per camera per year for a subscription.

Anticipating some residents’ privacy concerns, Bhateja noted there are some ALPR systems that allow residents to register their license plates so cameras don’t record them as their vehicles pass.

Bhateja is inviting Hills residents to sign an online petition expressing their support for bringing ALPRs to town and encouraging them to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. He first published the petition Feb. 9 and had collected more than 150 electronic signatures by Friday. Those names represent more than 500 residents because supporters are asked to list the number of people in their household, Bhateja said.

Hills residents may sign the petition through Thursday by visiting tinyurl.com/lah-alprs.

Tune into Thursday’s meeting by visiting bit.ly/Feb18CCMeetingLAH (webinar ID: 831 8515 4196; passcode: 94022; phone: 669-900-6833).

Note: Since the publication of this article, the Town Crier has been informed of another presentation scheduled for the Feb. 18 city council meeting. Hills resident Anand Ranganathan is slated to offer an opposing view about the installation of automated license plate readers that raises concerns about privacy, accuracy and costs associated with the technology.

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