Mayor Breed Introduces Legislation to Install 400 New Automated License Plate Readers

Legislation will be expedited to get already approved technology on the streets faster to more quickly combat organized retail theft, motor vehicle theft, and other critical public safety needs
November 07, 2023

San Francisco, CA – Mayor London N. Breed today will introduce legislation to allow the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) to use Automated License Plate Readers (ALRP) to address public safety issues in San Francisco. Mayor Breed has asked Board President Aaron Peskin to expedite the legislation, which he has agreed to do, so it can be approved in a few weeks, instead of the months it would normally take.   

While SFPD is already approved to use Automated License Plate Readers, a local law passed in 2019 prohibits any changes to the approved policy without Board of Supervisors approval, even if those changes are technical in nature. To receive Automated License Plate Readers provided by a recent state grant, SFPD must adjust its technical policies, and therefore SFPD must seek further legislative approval from the Board of Supervisors.  

“Public safety requires us to be nimble and quick to adapt to use new technologies,” said Mayor London Breed. “These license plate readers can play a critical role in disrupting retail theft, car break-ins, sideshows, and other criminal activity. But our current laws inhibit, rather than support, the expansion of public safety tools like license plate readers. We must do everything we can to get these cameras deployed as quickly as possible. There is no reason for delay.”  

"Installing a network of automated license plate readers will be a game-changer for San Francisco. The SFPD will be able to more easily identify vehicles and suspects wanted in some of our most pervasive and challenging serial crimes, like retail theft, auto burglaries, vehicle theft and catalytic converter theft to name just a few," said Police Chief Bill Scott. "These cameras will also help our officers be more precise in the vehicles they pull over, which will reduce unnecessary stops, and assist in our ongoing efforts to build trust with the communities we serve."    

Driving this need for new legislation for an already approved technology is the fact that San Francisco, like jurisdictions across the state, recently received a state grant to combat organized retail theft. This $17 million grant includes funding to allow SFPD to purchase and install 400 cameras to cover 100 intersections throughout the City. These cameras have proven instrumental in disrupting crime.  

However, to install these new cameras, there is a need for legislative changes due to the nature of how San Francisco governs the uses of technologies as set by a policy passed by the Board of Supervisors. Any time a City Department wants to use a new technology or, in this case, finds a need to adjust the technical parameters of that technology, it must seek legislative approval. For example, in this case, SFPD needs legislative approval to change what kind of video files are used and what kind of vendor can service the license plate readers.    

As this technology has already been approved for its current use, Mayor Breed asked President Peskin to waive the normal 30-day hold period where ordinances must sit before any action is taken. With that waiver granted, a first legislative hearing can happen as soon as on Monday and be heard at the full Board of Supervisors soon after. SFPD can then begin acquiring and installing these cameras. If it had not been granted, it’s likely that the legislation will not be before the full Board of Supervisors until next year.   


Retail Theft Grant: Providing 400 New License Plate Readers  

In September, San Francisco received $17.3 million in grant funding from the State of California’s Organized Retail Theft Grant Program, administered by the Board of State and Community Corrections. This grant provides funds to local law enforcement agencies across the state to combat organized retail theft. The SFPD has been awarded $15.3 from the Organized Retail Theft Prevention Grant Program and the District Attorney’s Office is being awarded $2 million from the California Organized Retail Theft Vertical Prosecution Grant Program.     

In addition to funding personnel and crime analysis, the money pays for essential equipment and vehicles to enhance operations as part of our organized retail theft and catalytic converter theft strategy. This includes 400 Automated License Plate Readers.  


Why SFPD Needs Legislative Approval for an Already Approved Technology  

Administrative Code 19B governs the City’s use of certain technologies, including license plate readers. Put into law in 2019, Admin Code 19B sets in place a requirement that any city department, including the Police Department, go through a prescribed process that includes hearings and approvals at two City staff committees before seeking legislative approval from the Board of Supervisors. This process generally takes six to nine months.   

SFPD has already previously gone through this process for License Plate Readers. The Mayor’s proposed legislation does not change or seek to expand what these tools will be used to do. However, the approval it received from the Board of Supervisors had prescribed technical language and now that needs to be changed. These include:  

  • Expanding which vendors are able to support, maintain tech and associated data   
  • Adding explicit authorization for the Police Department to use Vehicle Theft Abatement Funds to pay for new equipment  
  • Adding different formats for video (original policy only included MOV; amended to include mpg, mp4, avi, and other formats)  
  • Adds different formats for still images (original policy included PDF only; amended to include jpg, png, and other formats)  
  • Give officers using LPRs access to more law enforcement databases to better identify if a vehicle is stolen  

These examples, while technical in scope for an already approved technology, require legislative approval.