San Jose explores license plate readers on garbage trucks

San Jose city leaders on Wednesday approved a study of a plan to place license plate readers on garbage trucks.

The plan proposed by Mayor Sam Liccardo and councilmen Johnny Khamis and Raul Peralez would help the city’s Police Department track down stolen vehicles and warrants.

Installing license plate readers on garbage trucks would be beneficial as the vehicles sweep through the city once a week, Khamis said.

The City Council’s rules and open government committee approved the plan by a 4-to-1 vote, with City Councilman Chappie Jones dissenting.

While Jones said he is a fan of technology assisting in providing services in a more efficient and effective manner, but he sees the proposal as “a little too extreme.”

The idea of the trucks scanning license plates through every street is reminiscent of George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” and comparable to the National Security Agency listening to every phone call, Jones said.

Liccardo said people tend to get an “icky feeling” when it comes to surveillance such as cameras and drones, Liccardo said.

There are privacy interests being weighed against a potential benefit for law enforcement but the plan is an idea that should be considered, Liccardo said.

City staff will be looking into the proposal’s feasibility, legality and civil liberties implications.

Currently the Police Department has six license plate readers and the city has set aside $68,400 to purchase two more as part of its fiscal year 2015-2016.

San Jose police deputy chief Dave Knopf said he was supportive of the plan as the department works to increase its staffing levels.

An officer may reach every street within their patrol district in a month, but a garbage truck can make the same journey each week, Knopf said.

Weslie McConkey, outreach manager for GreenTeam of San Jose, also backed the plan to help fight crime in the city.

GreenTeam provides garbage and recycling collection services to the 49,000 single-family homes and 3,400 multi-family complexes throughout the city, McConkey said.

If the license plate readers end up on garbage trucks, McConkey said the company’s first priority is to ensure safety to its vehicles and drivers.