Police proposals aimed at public safety include license plate cameras, real-time data center, drone program

By SARA HALL

During a City Council study session this week, Newport Beach Police Department (NBPD) staff presented several proposals aimed at enhancing public safety, including: A system of cameras that can identify license plates; a crime information center that gathers and deploys real-time data; a cloud-based platform that connects and integrates police, government and private video feeds and other systems and developing a drone program.

During the discussion on Tuesday (May 28), council heard the findings of the Public Safety Technology Ad Hoc Committee, presented by NBPD Chief of Police Joe Cartwright and Deputy Chief of Police Javier Aguilar.

“Information drives our decision making,” Cartwright said.

Real-time information means better resource allocation and response, and more accurate and timely information leads to better results, he explained.

“The amount of technology in the last five to 10 years that has developed in law enforcement is really staggering,” Cartwright said.

High-tech systems also help deter criminal offenders, Cartwright added. Criminal groups talk to each other and communicate on where to go to commit these crimes, he explained, and they will avoid areas with certain systems.

“They say ‘Don’t go to that city, they’ve got all the bells and whistles,’” he said. “I’d like it to become that Newport Beach is a place that they do not want to frequent.”

Criminals do speak to each other and target cities that don’t have this type of technology, Aguilar agreed, it’s easier for them to commit crimes. He’s heard criminals talk exactly like that through wire taps during major investigations, he added.

“They know this technology just as well as police,” Aguilar said. “I’ve always said, the people who know technology very well when it comes to crime prevention are police officers and criminals.”

This is something the city has to think about, he emphasized.

It’s important to ensure they have policies in place, emphasized Mayor Will O’Neill, given the amount of additional data that NBPD will be collecting as part of these programs. The ad hoc committee has already drafted a drone policy and they’re working on a policy dealing with the Flock ALPR cameras, he added.

Responding to some concerns raised by public comment and other councilmembers, O’Neill noted that the policy will ensure they aren’t collecting data “willy nilly,” that there is proper oversight within the department, and that there are audits of what data is being collected and how it’s being used.

The policy work on these issues will be important, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Stapleton agreed, and noted that NBPD will be “good stewards” of the information.

These resources can be great when used properly, but there’s also a risk in collecting this much information, added Councilmember Noah Blom.

“I love the idea of crime prevention. I like giving you guys any tools we can to make this one of the safest cities in the world, but I am also nervous about what too much data can do in this country,” he said.

That’s why how the policy is crafted is so important, O’Neill reiterated.

NBPD personnel are already doing fantastic work with proactive patrols and policing, but these technologies could give them an extra edge, commented Councilmember Lauren Kleiman.

“I’m all in on giving our department the additional tools that they need to continue to keep this city as safe as it is,” she said.

Stapleton agreed that the team at NBPD should have the top technology to help them do their work. As elected officials, public safety is a top priority, Stapleton commented, and this proposal will provide the tools and resources NBPD needs.

“We have the best of the best, so it’s time that we give you the best of the best when it comes to technology and resources that you guys need,” he said.

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File photo courtesy of NBPD

NBPD staff presented several technology-focused proposals to council this week aimed at improving public safety

The committee was formed to look into theft and residential burglaries, Cartwright explained.

The ad hoc committee included O’Neill, Stapleton and Kleiman. It also included three community members who researched best practices in the law enforcement space and different systems and technologies used by other police departments in the region, Cartwright noted. When that initial group reported back, council formed the current ad hoc committee to look into the public safety best practices.

The proposed technology platforms include crime information center (CIC), Flock Safety automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) cameras, Fūsus intelligence platform and development of a drone program.

The CIC is a two-part mission that requires technology, Cartwright said.

First, it works in real-time to provide leads and allow investigations to begin immediately. As the call comes in, dispatch will get suspect and vehicle descriptions, photos, and video and immediately start providing that information to field units.

“Responding patrol officers…may have a picture of a suspect and a vehicle before they even get to the call. That way they’re not looking at 20 different red cars, they know exactly which red car they’re looking for,” Cartwright said as an example.

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Second, it can be used in crime analysis of trends and patterns. They can analyze multiple data sets to predict and prevent crime, which will direct the enforcement operations out in the field, Cartwright noted. Basically, they study the dates, times and locations that are most frequented by criminals and will send officers to those areas during those timeframes in an effort to suppress that activity, he explained.

The CIC has three key components: Technology, staffing and field operations.

Technology includes the Flock cameras, Fūsus platform, drone program and law enforcement databases. Under staffing for the CIC, it includes a senior crime analyst (existing full-time employee) and three civilian investigators (new FTEs currently included in the next fiscal year’s budget). For the field operations, it would need existing police sergeant and four police officer positions.

The solar-powered Flock Safety ALPR cameras would be installed at fixed locations on the inbound and outbound gateways and thoroughfares to the city, Cartwright explained. They are proposing 70 locations in Newport Beach, which will cover all the major arteries, he noted.

They include a cellular data connection and access to nationwide ALPR data and “hot listing,” which is a watch list of license plates of vehicles of interest (stolen or associated with missing persons or illegal activity).

The service would require an installation fee and then an annual cost per unit. It would be $283,500 for the first year and $264,000 annually thereafter.

Explaining how the ALPR technology helps prevent and eliminate crime, Cartwright said it provides real-time alerts to law enforcement when a stolen vehicle, fugitive, or a vehicle associated to an abducted/missing person case is detected in the city. It can also provide information to help generate immediate, actionable leads, he said, which can result in quicker apprehensions, recovery of stolen property, locating missing persons and providing crucial evidence. The cameras also act as a visual deterrent, he added.

From a privacy standpoint, the footage is owned by NBPD, but stored at Flock for 30 days before being deleted, Cartwright said. While it’s stored in the cloud provided by Amazon Web Services, a search reason is required for an officer looking up any camera data.

“That ensures that anything that’s not involved in a crime is overwritten and it takes the human bias out of crime solving,” by detecting objective data, he said.

Cartwright also explained that it’s not facial recognition software and that no personal identifiable information is contained in Flock. It will also not be used for traffic enforcement, he added.

There’s also an optional transparency portal, which allows people to see how many cars passed by the Flock cameras and how many hits there were on the hot list.

Cartwright noted that thousands of cities across the country use Flock cameras, including several neighboring to Newport Beach.

The current Flock camera HOA pilot program (approved previously through a resolution) is set to expire later this year, on September 20. They have two communities currently participating: Shorecliffs Property Owners Association and Spyglass Hill Community Association. Cartwright proposed extending the pilot program or making it permanent.

O’Neill supported making the HOA camera program permanent. The two communities participating have seen success with it, he commented, and they’ve been pleased with the responsiveness.

Councilmember Erik Weigand also supported the permanent program with the HOAs and use of the Flock cameras.

“I would love to see the Flock get turned on citywide tomorrow, but obviously we’ve got a few things we have to do to make that come to fruition,” he said.

Cartwright shared a video from Fūsus that explained the system as a “cloud-based, rapidly deployable real-time crime center.” The program combines community-owned cameras with video management software, drones, department-issued cell phones, gunshot detection systems and license plate readers. The information is integrated with the police department’s 911 dispatch software to bring the data and video feed to officers in the field.

It can save time and money in the long-run, Cartwright commented.

“(It) enables a greater situational awareness and officer safety,” Cartwright said, and it “gives us a better picture of what’s going on in real time.”

It integrates with several law enforcement systems as well as private, institutional and government video surveillance systems, he said. The Fūsus system can also tap into private homeowners’ security cameras (with permission), Cartwright confirmed, adding that some are already registered with NBPD.

From a privacy standpoint, the video owners determine who/when/where/why the video streams are reviewed and can limit access as they choose, Cartwright explained. It’s a partnership between NBPD and the business (or other video owners), he added. Watch commanders, dispatchers, investigators and officers/supervisors in the field would have access to the owner-approved live video feeds.

The cost would be $100,000 annually.

At the direction of the ad hoc committee, NBPD is also looking into the development of a drone program. The manufacturer would provide training, create a program specific for the Newport Beach Police Department and provide maintenance and operational support.

Although there are some challenges, Cartwright noted, including controlled airspace near John Wayne Airport, which would require working with the Federal Aviation Administration to receive waivers. They would also have to train and register the drone aircraft operators.

City staff would also have to create a drone program policy that would allow for specific and authorized use of drones, describe prohibited uses, and when and why they would record.

They would not be used for patrolling purposes or random surveillance, Cartwright confirmed. Drones would likely be used similar to the helicopter, for specific criminal investigation or a community caretaking event (fire or search and rescue, for example).

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu Newport.


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