Berkeley Police Review Commission discusses use of automated license plate readers, BPD staffing

Brianna Luna/Staff

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The Berkeley Police Review Commission, or PRC, met Wednesday evening to welcome two new commissioners and discuss the use of automated license plate readers, or ALPRs.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first meeting for commissioners Nathan Mizell and Julie Leftwich. Leftwich and commissioner Michael Chang were appointed to the Use of Force Subcommittee — especially relevant in light of AB 392, which limits the use of lethal force by police officers. Discussion of the use of ALPR data under ALPR policy 422 otherwise dominated the meeting.

ALPRs use cameras attached to parking enforcement vehicles to scan license plates. The readers collect information in a database to help with parking enforcement, including traffic tickets or stolen vehicles, Berkeley Police Department Captain Rico Rolleri explained in the meeting.

“It scans the license plate and brings it to a database … then it compares that license plate to any license plates that are in a separate database, for example — five or more unpaid parking tickets,” Rolleri said. “There’s a misconception by some, and it’s written all over our policy — you’re not to take any immediate law enforcement action just based on the ALPR data.”

During public comment, Tracy Rosenberg from Oakland Privacy, a citizen oversight coalition focused on the use of surveillance, shared her concerns over the use of surveillance and collection of ALPR data. Rosenburg said that the original intent of the collection of ALPR data was for use in parking enforcement. She expressed concern, however, that there could be a “change of focus” in what ALPR data might be used for.

The motion to submit the ALPR policy was ultimately approved, with commissioners Mizell and LaMonte Earnest voting against it and commissioner Gwen Allamby abstaining.

Rolleri also reported on BPD’s current staffing status, which he said “continues to trend upward.” BPD currently has 169 sworn officers, with 181 officers authorized, according to Rolleri. Eight officers are currently attending three different police academies, six are in field training, and two will be sworn in Sept. 16. One recruit will also graduate from the police academy Sept. 16, according to Rolleri.

BPD has been understaffed in the past few years due to budgeting constraints and a lack of qualified applicants.

The meeting closed with a vote to award former commissioner Terry Roberts a certificate of appreciation for his four-plus years of service at the commission. The commission also approved a motion to establish a standard that a minimum of three years of service is required to receive the certificate.

“He served over four years,” PRC chair George Perezvelez said. “It’s an acclamation of the hard work that was done in … years of service. It takes a lot of commitment.”

Leon Chen is a crime and courts reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @leonwchen.