Police cars mounted with automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) are always winding their way through the streets of Oakland. The cameras are recording the plate numbers of vehicles in the front and behind, as well as collecting footage on the surrounding areas. The policy of the Oakland Police Department (PD) is to utilize ALPR technology to capture and store digital license plate data and images in order to track stolen vehicles, monitor hit-and-run cases and record suspicious activity. Each morning, before the patrol gets into the car, they receive a “hit list” of plate numbers that are loaded into the readers and fires off an alert if any number matches plates of vehicles on the street. In the revised policy, Oakland PD has established a retention policy of 6 months, after which records will be destroyed.

In a 2012 report, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) identified that less than 1% of the data collected using ALPR technology matched the “hit list”. This poses an important question: what is being done with our sensitive, private location information? The technology is automated, but a retention policy of up to 6 months means public agencies like the Oakland PD can put together pieces of location information. This reveals personal information such as political or political associations that can be abused and breaches privacy laws.

Data sources

The data collected for this analysis was received as a result of public records request, leading to the release of over 2.7 million readings between 2010 and 2014 in Oakland Open Data. Additional data sources include American Fact Finder (race and income) and Oakland Police Department’s Crime Data. The following visualizations should provide more insight into how plate numbers are being collected, what neighborhoods are disparately targeted and further analysis on causality.

You can view the project here, and explore the code and analysis by visiting my Github.

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