Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) Program
On February 2, 2022, the Saratoga City Council authorized a one-year Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) pilot program consisting of six cameras in partnership with Flock Safety. This ALPR system will capture images of vehicle license plates, and 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 one-year pilot. The City Council evaluated the pilot program and decided to implement it permanently moving forward in August 2023.
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)
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 seven-camera system as well as the Town of Los Altos Hills 42 camera system.
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. 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 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 is 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.
The annual process for creating new LLAD zones or making a significant increase to the assessment of existing zones is described below:
- March: Deadline for a neighborhood to express general interest in holding an election to create a new one or substantially increase the assessment of an existing zone. Neighborhoods should submit their interest.
- April: Council adopts a Resolution of Intention preliminarily approving the Engineer’s Report, including assessments, and setting the date and time for public hearing to determine the outcome of a new zone election. Notices with formal ballots are mailed to property owners within the geographic boundaries of the proposed LLAD zone.
- June: Council conducts a public hearing on proposed new zones. Ballots may be submitted, changed, or withdrawn prior to the conclusion of the public testimony at the public hearing for a proposed new zone. All ballots must be received before the close of public testimony to be counted. When the public testimony and the public hearing are closed, ballots are tabulated during the City Council meeting. All ballots returned are weighted equally. A simple majority of ballots received will decide the outcome of the election. Property owners who abstain will not count in tallying the vote positively or negatively. If the majority of ballots submitted in opposition to the assessment exceed the ballots submitted in favor of the assessment, the City shall not impose an assessment. If the majority of ballots submitted in favor of the assessment exceed ballots submitted in opposition of the assessment, the Council will adopt a resolution confirming assessments.
- August: Deadline for the City to transmit assessments to the County to be included on property tax bills.
2023 LLAD Elections
In response to interest expressed by several property owners in several different Saratoga neighborhoods, the City conducted an LLAD election for 6 different proposed new zones in 2023. Voters in all of the proposed zones approved establishing new LLAD zones to fund Flock ALPR cameras in these neighborhoods.
- Map (PDF) of the new zones, including tentative camera locations, City camera locations, and other existing cameras
Cameras will most likely be installed in January 2024. In neighborhoods with existing cameras that are holding elections to fund ongoing camera costs, no additional cameras are proposed for installation.
In accordance with Proposition 218, passed by the voters in November of 1996, property owners must approve the formation of a new zone in the assessment district through a balloting process. An official ballot was sent to property owners within each of the proposed new ones in April 2023. Voters were permitted to return ballots to the City at any time up until the close of public testimony during the Public Hearing at the City Council Meeting on Wednesday, June 7, 2023, at 7:00 PM in the Civic Theater at 13777 Fruitvale Avenue. The City completed the tabulation of the ballots during the June 7, 2023, City Council Meeting following the end of public testimony.
In addition to the ballot, property owners in the proposed zones received a copy of the Engineer’s Report, which provides detailed information regarding the proposed annexation. The estimated assessment amounts per property were also provided.
One ballot was sent to the owner of each property in the new assessment zones. Because the assessment on each property will be the same if approved, every property owner vote was weighted equally. The outcome of the election was determined by a simple majority of ballots received. Property owners who abstained did not count in tallying the vote positively or negatively. If the majority of ballots submitted in opposition to the assessment had exceeded the ballots submitted in favor of the assessment, the City would not impose an assessment.
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 seven 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
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.
ALPR Frequently Asked Questions
What is ALPR?
The Automated License Plate Reader or ALPR system captures images of vehicle license plates then compares license plate numbers against law enforcement databases. If a plate matches a listing on a database for something like a stolen vehicle or person of interest, then the system will alert the Sheriff’s Office so that a deputy can be deployed to investigate. The City Council directed staff to implement a 1-year pilot with 7 Flock Safety cameras in February 2022. Cameras were installed in August 2022.
When will the City of Saratoga pilot be evaluated?
Installation of ALPR cameras was completed in August 2022, marking the start of the 1-year pilot. The City Council evaluated the pilot in fall 2023 and decided to implement the cameras permanently.
What information will be provided to the City Council to help them evaluate the pilot?
- Crime rates: Overall, how have the number of crimes in Saratoga changed during the 1-year pilot?
- Arrest rates: How many arrests (including fugitives) can be attributed to the ALPR system?
- Recovered stolen vehicles/license plates: How many stolen vehicle/license plate recoveries occurred as a result of the ALPR system? How soon after the alert were the vehicle/plate located?
- Pursuits: How many pursuits or attempts to stop a vehicle resulted from ALPR notifications?
- Clearance rates: How many crimes or cases were cleared or solved as a result of the ALPR system?
- Amber Alerts: How many times did the ALPR system assist with locating someone associated with an Amber Alert?
How were City camera locations selected?
The cameras were strategically located on major City streets that see the highest volume of traffic and at locations that serve as common entry points to the City.
How do license plate readers help solve crime?
A significant number of crimes are committed using stolen vehicles or vehicles with stolen license plates. The ALPR system captures license plate data and compares it to law enforcement databases, such as lists of vehicles and license plates reported stolen. When a match occurs, deputies are notified to investigate the matter. Additionally, the system can be searched based on vehicle characteristics, like body type, make, color, and more, to help deputies locate a vehicle as well as provide investigative leads when license plate data is not visible.
Is the City and the Sheriff's Office SB54 Compliant?
We are SB54 compliant. Our current policy indicates authorized uses and all other uses are prohibited. Read the Information Bulletin from Ron Bona, Attorney General, here Version OptionsAutomated License Plate Reader (ALPR) ProgramHeadline, which provides updated guidance to California state and local law enforcement agencies regarding the governance of databases under SB54.
How long does it take deputies to respond to an ALPR system alert?
Response times vary depending on current circumstances and the nature of the license plate match but are generally 5 to 10 minutes.
How are deputies alerted if there is an ALPR system alert?
Every deputy has their own login for the Flock Safety portal. At the beginning of the deputy’s shift, they log into the Flock Safety portal utilizing their Mobile Dispatch Terminal (MDT) inside their vehicle. The Flock Safety portal runs in the background on their computer, when an alert is indicated, the alert will show on the deputy’s screen. Additionally, County Communications receives alerts and can dispatch nearby deputies.
How does a Flock camera compare to other types of security cameras?
Flock cameras are optimized to capture images of license plates and vehicles. Additionally, Flock cameras use a combination of motion detection and infrared technology to capture vehicles traveling up to 75 miles per hour, day or night.
Additionally, one of the unique features of the Flock system is that residents and neighborhood groups with their own cameras can share data with the City system. This allows our community members to leverage the City system to provide additional eyes on the vehicles coming in and out of their neighborhood. Data flow is all one way to the City system; residents and neighborhood groups will never receive data or notifications from the City system. Instructions on how to enable sharing is available on the City’s website.
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 law enforcement databases. A second search in the California Department of Motor Vehicles database may only be conducted to identify the registered owner of a vehicle if a deputy has reasonable suspicion and cause to conduct a search.
How will data be flagged for retention past 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 are required to log in using their unique credentials then enter an associated case number and give a reason for the search. Additionally, since each individual deputy has their own login, their use of the system can be audited.
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. The cameras do not possess the necessary technology needed for traffic enforcement and data may not be shared with any federal immigration agencies. Additionally, under State law and local policies, data may only be used for the following purposes:
- To locate stolen, wanted, and/or other vehicles that are the subject of an investigation
- To locate and/or apprehend individuals subject to arrest warrants or who are otherwise lawfully sought by law enforcement
- To locate victims, witnesses, suspects, and others associated with a law enforcement investigation
- To locate missing persons, including in response to Amber Alerts and Silver Alerts
- To support local, State, Federal, and regional public safety departments in the identification of vehicles associated with targets of criminal investigations, including investigations of serial crimes
- To protect participants at special events; and
- To protect critical infrastructure sites.
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.
What do cameras look like?
Cameras are mounted on black poles. Below are images of cameras currently located in Saratoga.
What infrastructure is required for cameras?
No additional infrastructure is required. Cameras are powered by solar panels and use cellular signals to transmit data.
Will the City have an online Flock ALPR Dashboard?
Yes, the City has Flock ALPR Transparency Portal 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.
Landscaping and LIghting Assessment District Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Landscape and Lighting Assessment District (LLAD) Zone?
A Landscape and Lighting Assessment District (LLAD) zone is a neighborhood where property owners have voted to assess themselves to construct and maintain improvements (like Flock Safety Cameras), which creates a "benefit" for those properties.
Why is the City doing this?
The City of Saratoga maintains several Landscaping and Lighting Assessment District (LLAD) zones throughout the City. Property owners within these LLAD zones have voted to place an assessment on their property in exchange for additional improvements or benefits for their neighborhood, such as enhanced neighborhood entry landscaping, that are constructed and maintained by the City.
In 2022, the City Council adopted a change that allows neighborhoods to leverage the City of Saratoga Flock Safety Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) system and use the City’s LLAD framework to fund ALPR cameras in their neighborhood. The City will conduct LLAD elections to fund Flock ALPR cameras at the request of property owners that can demonstrate neighborhood interest to conduct an election. Like any election, the City is neutral on the outcome.
What happens to LLAD funded cameras if the City Council decides to remove City ALPR cameras at the end of the 1-year pilot?
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.
Why is the City conducting an LLAD election to fund ALPR cameras in my neighborhood now instead of waiting until after the 1-year pilot is over?
The City is conducting LLAD elections in 2023 to fund Flock ALPR cameras this year based on requests received from property owners and Neighborhood Watch leaders who live in the proposed zone.
Who will be responsible for LLAD funded cameras? Who will have access to the data of LLAD funded cameras?
All payments and coordination with Flock will be handled directly by the City. Additionally, these cameras will be part of the City system, so only the Sheriff’s Office will have access to data and alerts.
Who can vote in LLAD elections?
The owner of each property in the proposed new zone may vote in a LLAD election. In accordance with Proposition 218, passed by the voters in November of 1996, property owners must approve annexation into the assessment district through a balloting process.
How do I vote in an LLAD election?
Official ballots will be mailed to property owners subject to an LLAD election. Ballots may be returned in person or by mail to to the City of Saratoga. Ballots may also be brought in person to a public hearing, the date time, and location will be provided in the ballot materials sent to property owners. Ballots may be submitted, changed, or withdrawn prior to the conclusion of the public testimony at the Public Hearing. All ballots must be received before the close of public testimony to be counted.
When will LLAD votes be counted?
Ballots will be tabulated during a City Council meeting after the close of the public testimony and public hearing for the proposed zone.
How will the outcome of the election be determined?
The outcome of the election will be determined by a simple majority of ballots received. Property owners who abstain will not count in tallying the vote positively or negatively. If the majority of ballots submitted in opposition to the assessment exceed the ballots submitted in favor of the assessment, a majority protest exists and the City shall not impose an assessment.
How are assessments calculated?
Assessments are calculated by adding all initial and ongoing improvement costs (such as the cost to install and lease the Flock cameras) as well as City administration. These costs are distributed evenly among all properties in an assessment zone since all properties would benefit equally from this improvement.
Can my assessment increase over time?
Yes. However, the maximum amount that your assessment can increase will be capped at 5% of the previous year’s assessment. If your assessment is calculated above the maximum allowed assessment, the law requires the City to initiate a new ballot vote of property owners within the LLAD zone before the increase can go into effect.
If an LLAD zone is approved, what happens next?
Your assessment will be included on your annual property tax. The City would also coordinate the installation of cameras.
If the LLAD zone is approved, how long will my property be assessed?
If approved, the assessment will remain in effect until otherwise determined by the property owners in the proposed zone.
How does a neighborhood withdraw from the LLAD?
A neighborhood can request to terminate the assessment by providing a petition signed by property owners in the zone expressing the desire to stop the benefit. Petitions must be submitted no later than March to be reflected in the late summer/fall property tax bill. Additionally, the neighborhood may be responsible for any costs associated with terminating the camera leases early.