License plate readers coming to Encinitas

The downtown Encinitas sign.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Pre)

Council unanimously backs Sheriff’s Department’s proposal, asks if 7 are enough


Encinitas will support a county Sheriff’s Department proposal to install seven vehicle license plate-reading cameras on the city’s major roadways, City Council members said Wednesday, Nov. 16.

Sheriff’s Department Lt. Christopher Lawrence said the seven sites were selected for the initial Encinitas installation proposal because that is what is required to cover key entrance/exit points to the city. Plus, there are cameras proposed for a downtown Coast Highway 101 location because of the high level of criminal activity in the area, he said.

The cameras will be placed at:

  • The Interstate 5 off-ramps on Encinitas Boulevard;
  • The Coast Highway 101 and Encinitas Boulevard intersection;
  • The Rancho Santa Fe Road and Avenida La Costa intersection.

The new systems will continuously take photographs of license plates as vehicles pass by and use software to scan the plates, checking to see if they match any that have been reported as part of a crime. If there’s a match, Sheriff’s Department deputies and dispatchers will be alerted via a messaging system, Lawrence said. The alerts be very helpful for tracking down stolen vehicles, as well as vehicles reported in child abduction cases, he said.

“We’re just trying to be as innovative as possible in getting ahead of crime problems in the city,” Sheriff’s Capt. Dustin Lopez told the council.

Under the new camera contract, which the City Council unanimously approved Wednesday, Nov. 16, Encinitas will reimburse the Sheriff’s Department for the cost of the camera equipment, the license plate scanning software usage fees and the phone linkup expenses. The camera and software-related expenses total $30,226, while three years of cellular service, which allows the camera data to be sent immediately into the Sheriff’s Department system, will be $10,080.

While Encinitas is the first of the five cities that have contracts with the Sheriff’s Department for policing services to get the cameras, it is far from the first city in San Diego County to use them, Lopez and Lawrence said. The list includes Carlsbad, Escondido, Oceanside and San Diego, and Carlsbad has more cameras than any other city in the county — 85 in use now and 43 more planned, they said.

Their Carlsbad comments led Councilmember Joe Mosca to ask whether seven cameras was enough for Encinitas and to add that he hoped more would be later installed in the city’s eastern end, where thefts and home burglaries have been a problem and out-of-town criminal gangs are suspected of being the culprits.

“I think we should be doing everything we can to make sure our communities are safe,” Mosca said.

While reducing criminal activity was a frequently mentioned topic during the Wednesday, Nov. 16 discussion, council members also had many questions about privacy issues.

They wanted to know what information would be collected by the cameras, how long it would be stored and who would be able to access the information. Councilmember Kellie Hinze mentioned that the license plate readers became controversial in Chula Vista after residents discovered data from the devices was being shared with many agencies, including federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Lawrence said the data from Encinitas would only be used by local law enforcement — the five member agencies that obtain their policing from the Sheriff’s Department — and access would be monitored. He said Sheriff’s Department policy does not allow for broad distribution of the information, unlike what occurred in Chula Vista.

And, he added in response to council questions, these new automated license plate scanning systems aren’t like the city’s former, unpopular red light camera ticketing systems — these systems cannot be used to generate tickets for running red lights.