PIEDMONT -- The City Council wants to move swiftly on installing license plate readers around town in an effort to combat crime.
But the price tag for complete coverage is hefty -- $1.2 million, not including installation.
Police Chief Rikki Goede outlined the project at the Monday meeting, suggesting three options: installing readers at all 24 ingress/egress points to the city; phasing in the readers; or choosing 10 to 12 sites on which to place them.
Also, she stressed "someone in the department has to mine the data" fed to the department's system from the utility pole-mounted readers. That could mean hiring another investigator.
License plate readers photograph each vehicle as it enters or exits the city. It is not a video surveillance camera. The plates are instantly matched with a "hot list" of stolen vehicles, sex offenders or other scofflaws. The investigator can then quickly notify officers of the presence of a suspicious vehicle or driver.
Goede said the program has worked well in Claremont, a Southern California city with a force of 38 officers and 42 "reader" sites. In 2012, the readers had 26 million "hits," 22 million the previous year. A total of 166 arrests were made over that two-year period.
Resident George Childs said he supports the program and said: "Investing in this system would pay off in the long run."
Since three home-invasion robberies dating back to December and an uptick in brazen burglaries, residents are scrambling to install video surveillance cameras, more lighting and burglar alarms. They have joined online neighborhood watch sites to stay connected or formed neighborhood watch groups.
One resident suggested homeowners install their own cameras at less expense to track vehicles in their neighborhoods. The flaw to that plan is no direct feed to the police department.
"We need a robust, valid system the police have to run," Councilman Bob McBain said. "It can't be on homes; then you don't 'own' it. What if the people move and the new owner doesn't want a camera on his home?"
The specifications and implementation of a system are complex, Goede said, with questions still needing answers. The questions include the following: What sites would be chosen? How much money can be budgeted? Can the city afford to hire another investigator to monitor the readers and do follow-up?
The council supports the option of choosing 10 or 12 key sites. The Public Safety Committee will discuss the plan at its April 4 meeting, to which the public is welcome.
The council expects to take action at its April 15 meeting.
The council also approved becoming a member of the Energy Council Joint Powers Authority, where Piedmont partners with other local jurisdictions to seek grant funding for energy conservation and greenhouse gas reduction.
The council in this and earlier meetings was concerned with the city's liability if the Energy Council incurred outstanding debt, the voting structure of Energy Council and the length of the termination period should the city opt to withdraw.
Piedmont wanted one vote per city, but their request was overruled by the Waste Management Authority Board. The city may opt out after six months, and its liability is protected. Oakland gets three votes on the Energy Council; Alameda County, Fremont and Hayward get two votes each. All other members get one vote.
There was a terse exchange at the council meeting between Energy Council liaison/Councilman Garrett Keating and Councilman Jeff Wieler. The two also exchanged accusatory emails copied off to media outlets. Wieler pointed to steps Keating should have taken as liaison that Wieler said he did not. Keating defended his actions.