Danville police are looking into a new strategy to help deter potential crimes and solve those committed: license plate recognition technology.
Cameras placed at strategic locations across the town would help investigators identify and track vehicles in crime-impacted areas, as well as serve as a notice to prospective offenders that Danville police are on the watch, police chief Steve Simpkins said in describing the proposed program -- which is still in the early-planning phase.
"I feel like this is a good way to combat the increase in property crimes," Simpkins said in a phone interview earlier this fall.
Simpkins introduced his idea to the Danville Town Council during a study session in mid-October, telling council members the program was on his radar and seeking initial support from them before spending any more time looking into it.
And the police chief received that endorsement, with the council asking him to conduct further research and bring back an implementation proposal for future council consideration.
"I, along with the council, support expanding the camera systems to see if we can reduce property crimes in our community," Town Councilman Newell Arnerich said in an email interview. "This may be a cost-effective means of adding supporting evidence to help convict criminals. The cameras may also provide some deterrent effects as well."
Similar programs have been implemented across the state, and Simpkins said he touched base with several Bay Area police chiefs -- including those from Pittsburg, San Pablo and Piedmont -- who each gave rave reviews about their experiences.
Before going to the council last month, the police department gave the camera technology a local test-run: at the intersection of La Gonda Way and El Cerro Boulevard. "It has been valuable so far in a DUI collision case and helpful in searching for suspects in a stolen car case," Simpkins said.
Arnerich added, "The department's experiment of using cameras at one key intersection in Danville has demonstrated help in providing evidence to corroborate suspects entering and leaving our community."
Simpkins said he hopes to present his formal proposal, complete with estimated costs and program strategies, by the end of the current fiscal year in time for consideration as part of the 2016-17 town budget.
Figuring out where to place the cameras -- and how many to purchase -- are among the factors the police chief said he is still working on.
"If the project is approved in the future, we will strategically place (cameras) in areas in conjunction with crime data to be as effective as possible," he added.
If implemented, the cameras could give police a vital starting point in investigating various crimes, Simpkins said. "It would give us a lead. It would give us a place to go."
Linking crimes to specific time-frames is key, Simpkins said.
For example, if a resident leaves for the grocery store at noon and returns home at 1 p.m. to find they've been robbed, police could use that information to track vehicle movement in the area during that time via the cameras, he explained.
In offering his support, Arnerich said he thinks the cameras could help address the town's recent influx in property crimes. According to the 2014 annual police report, property crimes in Danville increased 7.5% between 2013 and 2014.
"Prop 47 has greatly affected communities like Danville as were are victims of more property crimes due to the reduction of a felonies to misdemeanors and issuing tickets with a site release," Arnerich said. "I appreciate our police department's proactive approach to keeping Danville residents safe."
Simpkins said he is cognizant of privacy concerns the camera program could pose, so his department plans to draft a policy specifying who can access camera data and how long the data would be retained.
"I understand that people could be concerned, but our end goal is to reduce crime in Danville," he added. "I want to do anything I can to control, minimize, decrease property crime."