(The Center Square) – The city of Berkeley parking enforcement bureau has electronically record the license plates of 3.13 million vehicles, a controversial form of law enforcement.
The newer technology replaces the old-fashioned method of chalking tires of parked cars and allows for more enforcement but comes with some concerns over privacy. The data is shared with other law enforcement or prosecutorial agencies but not immigration enforcement, according to the city.
Parking violations in the city had dropped from 145,286 in 2018 to 100,492 in 2020, which was the first year of the pandemic. In 2021, parking violations dropped to 85,259 but rebounded to 128,271 in 2022, according to city data.
The city of Berkeley will get an update on its enforcement using Automated License Plate Readers at its Nov. 7 meeting. That update stated the city’s parking enforcement unit recorded 3.13 million license plates from Oct. 1, 2022 through Sept. 30, 2023 and turned that into 36,953 citations.
The city police department wants to expand use of license plate readers beyond parking enforcement. The city received a Oct. 10 memo on starting a two-year trial of the expansion.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights watchdog, has raised concerns with license-plate readers. EFF’s research has found that police in other departments in the U.S. have abused the technology. And they say the vast majority of people whose license plates are captured have never been accused of a crime and their movements can be tracked and even anticipated with the technology.
The city of Berkeley has stated that it has had no complaints to date with its use of the technology.
The city of Berkeley said police only used the license plate reading technology one time during the year being reviewed and it was during the investigation of a stabbing. The city said only parking enforcement vehicles are equipped with the license plate readers and then only in areas with parking-time restrictions.
At least 16 states have different statutes that address using license plate reading technology and the use of data collected, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The city of Berkeley didn’t respond to emails seeking comment. The Electronic Frontier Foundation didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.