Broadband-based cameras track crime |

Broadband-based cameras track crime

Broadband based camera track criminal activity


The future of criminal prosecution is coming to Grass Valley, as the City Council unanimously approved a one-year contract to deploy 18 cameras at critical points in order to identify vehicles linked to the commission of crimes.

Despite consensus to implement the cutting edge cameras, Council member Hilary Hodge on Tuesday expressed hesitation before casting a vote with the majority. Hodge cited the Patriot Act as what she called a recent example of overreach and an erosion of civil liberties, adding that she’d be remiss if she failed to bring it to the council’s attention.

“I realize this technology is the new standard of operations for law enforcement, and if we don’t have this tech we’d be behind the times,” said Hodge. “But I think a lot of these tech tools have gone to track people of color. I say that understanding that our police department has been progressive in their interaction with people of color. I know how hard they work to be inclusive, but I don’t think other jurisdictions employ that inclusiveness.”

Leading the presentation, Police Chief Alex Gammelgard said he understood the potential abuse of the technology.

“There’s some statutory protections, but they don’t always cover everything,” said Gammelgard. “It is more about (our department) culture, audits and setting those expectations in our police department.”

Gammelgard corrected one council member when he referred to the devices as “cameras.” They officially they are known in the trade as Automated License Plate Readers, or ALPR. However, some manufacturers in their advertisements refer to them as cameras.

Gammelgard said the devices can be linked up with the Axon dashboard cameras the department has already been using in police cars.


Council member Bob Branstrom asked about the speed the device could transmit an image once it takes a picture of a license plate. A representative of Flock, the company chosen to supply them, said, “within 20 seconds.”

The devices work over an LTE (long term evolution), a standard for wireless broadband communication for mobile devises and data terminals, and in the near future the 5G cellular connection. The 18 devices cost $2,500 each.

Flock was chosen as supplier because it has a subscription model, Gammelgard said. Flock will deploy the cameras, and own and maintain the devices, but the police department will have access to the data and determine how it is used.

Unlike dashboard cams that can record street parking violations, these new devices are at fixed points, stationed at critical spots across Grass Valley as a crime deterrent that offers more value, the chief said.

“It’ll work primarily on arterial roadways,” he added. “It’s a little bit driven by our knowledge of where we have knowledge of where we have had crime. Brunswick Basin is likely to be more on the retail side. It’s Beat 3 on our Police Geographical Mapping. It’s disproportionately higher in crime than Beat 2, so it’s a focus. So, for example, freeway off-ramps, we propose somewhere on the west side of Brunswick Road, we’d have a device.”

Gammelgard said only officers with authorization to query data could view the images. He also assured the council that police will not provide images to repossession outfits. Although officials do not currently contemplate allowing access to data with neighboring counties, it could be a matter of becoming a policy of reciprocation.

Most data would be deleted after 30 days, except felonies tracking a homicide going to trial, which could lead to retaining a select image.

Gammelgard said the devices can trace abductions, Amber alerts (child abductions) or homicides.

“If you get a piece of that license plate on the system, it gives the police the opportunity to intercept at a faster pace and help our officers make a safer community.”

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at

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