Mayor: Paradise Valley LPR cameras shouldn’t have been surprise

A license plate reader camera in a faux cactus in Paradise Valley. (CBS 5 News)

A license plate reader camera in a faux cactus in Paradise Valley. (CBS 5 News)

New cameras hidden in faux cacti at an entrance of the Town of Paradise Valley has residents concerned, but Mayor Michael Collins says there should have been no surprise.

The cameras are license plate readers; an extension of a plan voted on by the town council in 2013.

Michael Collins

Michael Collins

“The use of license plate readers in the Town of Paradise Valley should be of no surprise to anyone following local government through coverage in the Town of Paradise Valley Independent, my or the town’s social media presence,” said Mayor Collins in a May 7 written response to e-mailed questions.

“There have been numerous public presentations, news articles and social media postings speaking to the range of public safety technologies being implemented in the Town and their anticipated utility in fighting crime.”

Mayor Collins says the LPRs are only used in the faux cacti where there is no traffic signal pole to attach them to.

“The function of these LPRs is to capture license plate numbers of vehicles entering the town,” said Mayor Collins. “The LPRs will alert Paradise Valley police when a plate number matches an Amber or Silver alert or is the subject of an active police investigation.”

Collected data will be saved for a short period of time to be used for investigations, said the mayor.

“The total project when done is 11; however, I believe only three are on cacti,” said Paradise Valley Town Manager Kevin Burke in a May 8 phone interview.

The cameras were installed sometime between May 5-6, according to Mr. Burke. Traffic signal replacements, photo radar and other maintenance was also going on, he said.

“The cameras have not been activated and my understanding is they are still in the testing phase so we can be absolutely sure they achieve the desired result without compromising privacy,” said Paradise Valley Councilwoman Maria Syms in a statement to Independent Newsmedia.

Paradise Valley residents and elected leaders contacted Independent Newsmedia following a handful of television and online reports accusing town leaders of keeping the LPR cameras a secret.

In July 2013, the Independent reported Paradise Valley Town Council approved a contract with New World Systems, by a 5 to 1 margin, to upgrade the police department’s dispatch and records management systems. The contract was to provide new technology for officers, including on-board computers and license plate readers that would work in tandem with photo radar technology, police said in the 2013 article.

“The installation of license plate readers at certain entrances to the town is a small part of the larger public safety technology investment the town council has been making over the past two years in response to findings of the 2013 Public Safety Task Force,” said Mayor Collins.

The Paradise Valley Public Safety Task Force was comprised of more than 50 residents who participated regularly over an 11-week period in late 2013 with then Vice-Mayor Collins serving as the task force’s chairman. The advisory committee was created following a series of home burglaries — 11 of the 54 reported in 2012 occurring over the last 60 to 90 days of that year.

The task force voted to approve the final report on findings and recommendations and forward it to the town council. The group made six recommendations, of which included:

  • • Require the police department to prepare a rolling five-year strategic plan for community policing that identifies crime prevention programs and community outreach practices and policies to be implemented.
  • • Implement and sustain up-to-date core technologies and internal support systems to: 1) provide efficient and effective computer-aided dispatch and records management functionality, 2) give officers the ability to file reports and query data from their patrol vehicles, and 3) establish ongoing internal sustainment programs and policies.

“LPRs are simply the latest public safety tool in the toolbox to better protect residents and guest of the Town of Paradise Valley,” said Mayor Collins.

“While I understand the concern that some have when first learning about this law enforcement technology, I’m both hopeful and optimistic that once residents and visitors understand how it will be used and the precautions that will be in place to prevent its abuse or unlawful use, that rational minds will prevail and this technology will be seen as another positive example of Paradise Valley leveraging technology to better protect its residents and guests.”

According to the Mayor, a full LPR use and records retention policy from the police department, as well a press release will be forthcoming before their activation.

Mr. Burke said they are hoping to have the press release by next week.

“I can assure you there is no effort to become ‘big brother’ or interfere with the privacy rights so valued by our residents. Protecting those privacy interests is a priority,” said Councilwoman Syms. “Any suggestion that the town has not been forthcoming about the cameras is just plain wrong.”

North Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be contacted at 623-445-2709 or you can follow her at www.twitter.com/melissafittro

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.