California's crime problem is so out-of-control that San Jose is spending part of its COVID relief money to buy a bunch of license plate readers

Dec 1st

Sure, the federal government has blown through unthinkable sums of money trying to shore up the (largely manufactured) economic fallout surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. But hey, at least San Jose is getting some swanky new tech!

In an effort to combat the spike in retail "smash-mob" robberies plaguing the Bay Area, the San Jose city council has approved spending a portion of federal COVID-19 relief money on license plate readers (LPRs).

The vote to allocate the $250,000 towards LPRs was unanimous and was included as a line item, amongst other expenditures, of $18.3 million dollars of American Rescue Plan Act funds, San Jose received from the Biden Administration.

Well, at least they're making use of all of that money in a productive manner, right?

Well, not so fast:

Dave Maass, Director of Investigations at the Electronic Frontier Foundation based in San Francisco, conducted research on police use of LPRs statewide and found SJPD scanned and stored 1.6 million plates in 2020. Of those plates, 1,509 were of interest to investigators, representing a success rate of 0.089%.

"You hear that they're going to be spending a quarter million dollars on license plate readers. I'm like, it's not a great use of money," said Maass.

According to Maass, license plate databases are often poorly managed by law enforcement agencies and sometimes abused by jealous exes spying on former lovers. In some instances, false matches have led to wrongful arrests, which resulted in expensive financial settlements with victims.

Yeah, honestly, it's actually not hard to see how criminals get around this: Whenever they're about to roll up to a smash-and-grab, they just cover their license plates up with a piece of fabric or something; then they roll out and, a few blocks later, rip the fabric off to avoid suspicion.

I mean... they're criminals. It's not like they'll be reluctant to cover up their license plates. Breaking the law is what they do!

Color me doubtful that this will make any difference to San Jose's crime problems.


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