Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) Pilot Program
On February 2, 2022, the Saratoga City Council authorized a 1-year Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) pilot program consisting of 7 cameras in partnership with Flock Safety. This ALPR system will capture images of vehicle license plates, then compare license plate numbers against law enforcement databases. If a plate matches a listing on a database, the system will alert the Sheriff’s Office so a deputy can be deployed to investigate.
Current Pilot Status
Installation of ALPR cameras was completed in August 2022, marking the start of the 1-year pilot. The City Council will evaluate the pilot in fall/winter 2023 after it is concluded in August 2023.
Subscribe to the City's Neighborhood Watch Newsletter to receive email updates on the status of the ALPR Pilot.
View summary information about the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office's use of the ALPR system. As the law enforcement provider for both the City of Saratoga and Town of Los Altos, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office transparency portal includes information on the City of Saratoga 7 camera system as well as the Town of Los Altos Hills 42 camera system.
Private Resident or Neighborhood Flock ALPR Data Sharing
Residents and neighborhoods with their own Flock cameras placed on private property have the option to enable sharing of license plate data captured on their private Flock cameras with the City’s system. The data can only flow one way to the City system; residents and neighborhood groups will never receive data or notifications from the City system.
If a private Flock camera detects a license plate on a law enforcement database, the Sheriff’s Office will be informed so that a deputy can be deployed to the camera location for further investigation, just as they would if a match was captured by one of the 7 City of Saratoga ALPR cameras.
Follow the steps below to enable data sharing:
- Log into the Flock System
- Click on Organization Management
- Click on Cameras
- Click on Share
- Search for and select Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office
If you have any difficulties, email email@example.com, and indicate you would like to share data with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. Flock will then take care of the setup. You can also opt to share data with other neighboring law enforcement agencies.
Homeowners Association Encroachment Permit
Neighborhoods with a formal Homeowners Association may apply for an encroachment permit to place their own private security cameras in the public right-of-way. Cameras installed through an encroachment permit are owned or leased, paid for, and managed by the Homeowners Association.
Landscaping and Lighting Assessment Districts
In September 2022, the City Council adopted a change that allows neighborhoods to use the City’s Landscaping and Lighting Assessment District framework as a way to both fund the addition of Flock ALPR cameras in their neighborhood and allow placement of cameras in the right-of-way at the entrance to a neighborhood. Cameras funded through this process are paid for through property tax assessments on homes in the assessment district.
These Flock cameras will be part of the City system, so only the Sheriff’s Office will have access to data and alerts. All payments and coordination with Flock will be handled directly by the City. Additionally, cameras installed through the City’s Landscaping and Lighting Assessment District will be independent of the 1-year pilot that is scheduled to end in August 2023 with City Council evaluation in fall/winter 2023. Cameras installed through the Assessment District can remain in place as long as the neighborhood funds them.
Property owners within a Landscape and Lighting Assessment District Zone have voted to assess themselves to construct and maintain improvements, such as Flock ALPR cameras, which creates a "benefit" for those properties. Assessments appear on the annual property tax bill and are calculated by adding all costs to install and lease the Flock camera system including City administration. Assessments vary according to the number of properties within a zone and the of Flock cameras desired. Assessments may increase over time, but the maximum amount that the assessment can increase is capped at 5% of the previous year’s assessment. Any increases above this cap must be approved by property owners within the zone. Additionally, each zone has its own bank account and are never comingled with other zones or City funds. Individual zone funds may only be used for that zone.
Neighborhoods interested in funding cameras through the Landscaping and Lighting Assessment District must be part of an existing assessment zone or form a new zone. This process starts with a discussion at the neighborhood level to determine property owner willingness to fund Flock ALPR cameras through an assessment, including an overview of the process and desired number of cameras. Neighborhoods interested in funding cameras through the assessment district this year should indicate their interest to the City no later than March 2023. An election process to form a new zone or approve additional expenses for existing zones will begin in late April with ballots being tabulated in June. Approved assessments will appear on the fall property tax bill.
To learn more, please contact Public Works Director John Cherbone at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408.868.1241.
ALPR camera locations for the City’s pilot program were selected in consultation with the Sheriff’s Office and Flock Safety. The locations below serve as entry points to the City on major arterial roads with adequate sun exposure to power the ALPR units.
- Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road at Prospect Road (capturing southbound traffic)
- Saratoga Avenue at Kosich Drive (capturing southwest bound traffic)
- Saratoga Avenue at State Route 85 (capturing northeast bound traffic)
- Saratoga Avenue at State Route 85 (capturing southwest bound traffic)
- Quito Road at Pollard Road (capturing southbound traffic)
- Fruitvale Avenue at State Route 9 (capturing northbound traffic)
- Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road at Big Basin Way (capturing northbound traffic)
City Support for Private Resident or Neighborhood Group Flock Cameras
Registered Neighborhood Watch groups may use the annual Neighborhood Watch Grant to cover costs associated with Flock ALPR cameras that they have opted to install in their neighborhood on private property.
Response times will vary depending on current circumstances and the nature of the license plate match but are generally expected to occur within 5 to 10 minutes.
After the 1-year pilot period, the City Council will assess the effectiveness of the ALPR system and provide direction on continued use of ALPR or expansion.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do license plate readers help solve crime?
A significant number of crimes are committed with the assistance of a vehicle. License plate numbers give the Sheriffs’ Office objective, actionable leads needed to help solve crime. Using ALPR cameras, detectives can pinpoint the suspect’s last known location which narrows down the search radius.
Flock Safety ALPR cameras go beyond capturing license plates. Unlike traditional license plate readers, the unique technology accelerates investigations by allowing the Sheriff’s Office to filter their search based on the vehicle’s specific characteristics, including body type, make, color, and more. This is key in producing an investigative lead for the Sheriff’s Office when a suspect vehicle has no visible plates or unique characteristics.
How does a Flock camera compare to other types of security cameras?
Flock cameras are optimized for license plate capture. Flock camera sensors are optimized for objects that are well-lit or illuminated by infrared technology. Standard Flock cameras have an intentionally short shutter speed (how long the camera is open). This setting allows the camera to wake up and start taking pictures in a fraction of a second, and to capture multiple frames of a car traveling up to 75 MPH. Flock cameras have an intentionally narrow field of view capable of capturing about one and a half lanes of traffic. Unlike an ALPR camera, a doorbell camera is optimized for surveillance — its settings are optimized for low light, and the shutter speed is slower. It captures non-reflective objects moving slowly (i.e., pedestrians), but not reflective objects moving quickly (i.e., cars and license plates).
How does Flock Safety protect residents’ privacy?
Flock Safety has strict measures in place to protect resident privacy. All data is stored for only 30 days. Only Sheriff’s Office staff have access to the City of Saratoga ALPR data. Flock will never share or sell data with third parties and the Sheriff’s Office is the only one to determine who has access to the footage. All data is stored in the cloud through Amazon Web Services (AWS) using AES256 bit encryption, a standard encryption system used by both the Federal Government and the National Security Agency.
Are Flock Safety cameras tied to any personally identifiable information?
No, the camera takes pictures of the vehicle while cross-referencing the license plate through the Stolen Vehicle System and Flock Safety Hot List. A second search in the California Department of Motor Vehicles database must be conducted by a deputy to identify the registered owner of the vehicle. Such a search requires reasonable suspicion as a deputy must have a right to know and a need to know prior to conducting such a search.
How will data be flagged for retention past the 30 days?
Within the Flock portal, all data will be automatically deleted when it hits that 30-day mark on a rolling pattern. If there is any data tied to a case or an active investigation, it would manually be taken out of the system by an investigating deputy. Data and images manually downloaded are treated as evidence and subject to laws, policies, and procedures that govern their use.
What is required for a deputy to conduct a data search in the Flock Safety portal?
Any time a deputy conducts a search in the Flock Safety portal, they will be required to enter a case number per department policy. Additionally, the deputy will have to give a reason for the search. Each individual deputy will have their own login, so we will be able to audit each deputy’s activities as they go through the portal.
How will a deputy be alerted to a stolen vehicle?
Every deputy will have their own login for the Flock Safety portal. At the beginning of the deputy’s shift, they will log into the Flock Safety portal utilizing their Mobile Dispatch Terminal (MDT) inside their vehicle. The Flock Safety portal will be running in the background on their computer, when an alert is indicated, the alert will show on the deputy’s screen. Additionally, our dispatchers will have their own logins so our dispatchers will also see the alerts, which will allow them to broadcast the information.
Is an alert alone sufficient for an officer to stop the vehicle?
No, per policy, the deputy must verify the vehicle plate in the alert is the correct vehicle plate and they must also verify the vehicle is still wanted through dispatch or by utilizing their Mobile Dispatch Terminal (MDT). Only after verification should a deputy initiate an enforcement stop.
Why did the City select stationary ALPRs over mobile ALPRs?
Stationary ALPRs are a force multiplier for the Sheriff’s Office. They provide 24-hour coverage for multiple areas of the City, especially the entry and exit points. The Sheriff’s Office has one mobile APLR and it is in service only part of the day. The stationary ALPRs will provide the City with greater coverage.
How will you address cybersecurity related to the cameras?
The cameras use cellular signals and there is no possible incoming connection to the camera. The cameras use ADF-256 encryption protocols, so any data that is on the camera itself is always encrypted. The data is encrypted in transit when it is being sent to the cloud, and Amazon AWS government cloud storage is used. All data is encrypted at rest in the cloud.
Will Flock Safety cameras be used for traffic or immigration enforcement?
No. County and City policies are clear on the sharing of information. We will not share any of the data with any federal immigration agencies. Additionally, the technology for either traffic or immigration enforcement is not built into the solution. This is by design based on the fundamental beliefs of Flock Safety. The company is guided by its founding principle that it is possible to build technology that is effective for law enforcement to help solve and prevent crimes, while at the same time protecting a person's privacy and rights.
Will signage be installed at City ALPR camera locations?
Signage will not be installed at camera locations, but the City does plan to place temporary banners throughout the City on a periodic basis to announce the use of ALPR. Additionally, the City will be conducting outreach to encourage residents and neighborhoods to share their own Flock data with the City system.
Will the City have an online Flock ALPR Dashboard?
Yes, the City will have a public online Flock ALPR Dashboard that will provide the community with anonymized information about the use of the ALPR system.
Can the City use data from privately leased Flock ALPR cameras, such as those operated by a resident or Neighborhood Watch group?
Once the City of Saratoga’s ALPR pilot program goes live, residents or neighborhoods with their own Flock cameras placed on private property will have the option to enable sharing of license plate data captured on their private Flock cameras with the City’s system. The data flow is all one way to the City system; residents and neighborhood groups never receive data about when a license plate identified by a camera matches a license plate on a law enforcement database.
If a license plate detected by a private Flock camera matches a license plate on a law enforcement database, the Sheriff’s Office will be informed so that a deputy can be deployed to the camera location for further investigation just as they would if a match was detected by one of the 7 City of Saratoga ALPR cameras.
Can the feed from non-Flock cameras be integrated with the Flock System?
Unfortunately, the answer is no.
What is the best and fastest way to share private non-Flock video footage with the Sheriff’s Office?
The best and fastest way for residents to share footage from a non-Flock Camera is to call the non-emergency number (408.299.2311) and talk with a deputy about the footage.