San Diego

Carlsbad License Plate Readers Draw Mixed Reviews from Residents

Carlsbad has a new high-tech crime fighting tool, but it does not come without concerns.

Fourteen intersections in the city are now equipped with 50 license plate readers as part of the Carlsbad Police Department’s efforts to help reduce property thefts that have been on the rise the past two years.

NBC 7 Investigates reported in March on the expansion of the use of the technology in the seaside community.

All the LPRs were up and running as of December 20, according to Carlsbad police, but it is drawing criticism from some locals.

“I think it's absurd and it's crazy," said Carlsbad resident Lauren Escalera. "It’s out of control. It’s just another way for them to watch what we're doing."

However, the new LPRs are being credited with uncovering three stolen vehicles in the first few days of operation, CPD said Tuesday. 

Officers said the cameras identified two stolen cars on Friday, and a third stolen car Tuesday. Three arrests were made, although one suspect evaded police. 

In a post to the department's Facebook page, police officials said, "This is the result we were hoping for when we installed the cameras… to be alerted when a vehicle associated with a crime is driving in Carlsbad."

So, while some people are wary of the Big Brother aspect, others are commendable to the devices.

“I think it’s a great idea because it’s a very innovative way to identify stolen merchandise and stolen cars,” said Juan Rojas, a resident of nearby Vista.

Cameras mounted on traffic lights at 14 intersections automatically record license plate numbers and the area around the plate. The numbers are then run against a law enforcement data base, which looks for vehicles tied to felonies, like stolen cars and missing children.

According to Carlsbad police, the data collected will be deleted after one year, unless it's needed for a criminal investigation.

Some privacy rights advocates are concerned about when and how the information is used. Another concern is that, depending on the angle of the camera, faces could also be captured.

Despite her aversion to the cameras, Escalera said the cameras’ ability to help find missing children is a positive thing. However, she is still torn on whether the cons outweigh the pros.

Rojas said it is just a sign of the times we live in.

“It’s uncomfortable," Rojas said, "but nowadays through the digital devices they pretty much know what I’m having for dinner."

NBC 7 Investigates found agencies in San Diego County have been using those types of License Plate Readers to track a vehicle's location and movements on public roads and in parking lots since 2009.

An NBC7 Investigates report last year found the San Diego County Sheriff's Department had scanned more than 8 million license plates since March 2014.

Six CPD squad cars were also equipped with the readers. The The Carlsbad City Council approved adding LPRs at a cost of more than $1 million for the first year.

For a list of LPR locations, click here.

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