San Jose May Deploy Crime-Spying Garbage Trucks

San Jose may enlist garbage trucks as eyes on the ground for a short-staffed police force.

Equipping trash haulers with license plate readers would turn them into roving scouts for the San Jose Police Department. Already, the trucks travel every city street every single week, covering more ground than a cop car.

Councilman Johnny Khamis proposed the idea with support from his colleague Raul Peralez—a former policeman—and Mayor Sam Liccardo.

“As we continue to struggle to recruit and retain police officers, it is imperative that we utilize any technologies at our disposal to thwart crime,” reads a joint memo submitted to Wednesday’s Rules and Open Government Committee.

The city tabbed $68,400 in this year’s budget for two new plate scanners. Typically, the high-speed cameras are mounted on police cruisers, where they photograph thousands of plates a minute.

“Mounting these readers on … garbage trucks would be a unique and effective strategy,” per the memo signed by Liccardo, Khamis and Peralez.

Garbage trucks traverse the entire city every week, which would allow police to scan every car along the way. City officials say they could run plates for warrants and check for stolen vehicles.

Privacy advocates have warned about the proliferation of these plate scanners. San Francisco has strapped plate-reading cameras on city buses to identify bus stop-blocking cars to tow. Other cities have affixed them to traffic signals and bridges. They’ve also been deployed for civilian uses, including repo companies.

A leading concern among privacy advocates—including the American Civil Liberties Union—is how the data is stored and analyzed. License plates are meant to be public and reading them isn’t a violation of privacy, per se. But when millions of scans collected from various places are compiled and viewed together, patterns emerge and the activity of everyday citizens can become easily tracked.

In the Bay Area, law enforcement agencies ferry that information to a data fusion center called the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center.

San Leandro-based computer security consultant Michael Katz-Lacabe learned firsthand how much detail those scans convey when he asked his city’s police department to hand over photos of his car. The records request turned up 112 photos, including one with his two daughters snapped in their own driveway.

Liccardo, Peralez and Khamis will consult the city attorney to review the legality of their proposal. They also question the civil liberty implications of placing scanners collecting investigative data on trucks owned by private companies.

More from the San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee agenda for August 19, 2015:

  • After learning that just about half the City Council broke city election law in the past year, officials have set about revising those rules to avoid further confusion. At its Aug. 12 meeting, San Jose’s Ethics Commission drafted a list of suggested changes. One of those recommendations asks to eliminate the $1,000 minimum penalty for late filing. The city aims to have the revisions approved by Dec. 10, when candidates can start raising money for the June 2016 primary.
  • San Jose may study the possibility of raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. The proposal signed by Liccardo and council members Manh Nguyen and Chappie Jones cites similar wage hikes in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. But they caution the city to consider the regional impacts. “Such wage increases … tend to ignore the critical efforts of nonprofits who seek to provide a path to self-sufficiency through job training and entry-level employment for the hardest-to-employ, such as teens and ex-convicts in reentry programs,” they wrote. “We aspire to avoid those common mistakes with a thoughtful approach that lifts the tide for all residents, without leaving any underwater.”
  • Meanwhile, city officials are figuring out how to bring transportation rules up to date to accommodate the influx of ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft. “Some items of interest may be, but not limited to, aligning, fingerprint/background checks, drug and alcohol testing and vehicle inspections,” according to the proposal by council members Rose Herrera, Don Rocha, Khamis and Peralez.
  • Finally, San Jose Inside will appeal the city's denial of a records request. Last month, news editor Josh Koehn asked for SJPD Assistant Chief Eddie Garcia's emails. The city denied the request, saying those had nothing to do with the public's business.

WHAT: Rules and Open Government Committee meets
WHEN: 2pm Wednesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. From the article:

    San Jose may study the possibility of raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

    Hey, we’re the capital of Silicon Valley! Why be cheapskates? If $15/hr will make things better, then why not $30/hr?

    I propose a minimum wage of $30 an hour, retroactive to January 1, 2015. Let us help those poor folks.

    They will need it, because it the minimum wage is raised to $15 an hour, they will be disqualified from rental assistance and many other taxpayer-funded programs. Both they and their employers will be worse off than before. But the mayor’s feel-good quotient will rise. And that’s what’s important.

    But before we do any of these things, let’s fund a basic econ program for the mayor and city council. We could start with a course on Bastiat’s Broken Window Fallacy…

    • Hey, we’re the capital of Silicon Valley!

      Heh was thinking about how silly that slogan is today. Had a conversation with a recent transplant about things to do around here, and I told him, “Remember San Jose is a great hub city!” It got me to thinking, if we just changed one word in our slogan from “Capitol” to “Hub” it would still be an awesome slogan, and very very accurate.

      “San Jose, the hub of Silicon Valley”

      It works on so many levels too. All of us SJ lifers know it’s 1/2 hour to the beach (well, used to be) 1/2 hour to the mountains, 1/2 hour to fishing in the bay. 5 hours will take you skiing, or down to LA. Also “Hub” is a term used in computer networks.

      Might actually take a day to drop this on the current councilmembers. I think it’s time for a slogan change.. A lot of neighboring cities think our current self proclaimed “Capitol” is a bit arrogant. Also, the slogan was created during a fairly tumultuous time in our cities history, so it would be nice to turn the page and move forward.

  2. Khamis and Liccardo came up with this…. Say no more…. Im truly embarrassed to say Im from SJ. At least there are many rich attorneys now.

    • This is actually an ingenious idea.. I don’t know how 2 LPR systems are going to make a huge difference.. But if they put one on each route it would serve to be some rather productive data in solving crimes and recovering vehicles.

    • Wow what a brilliant idea! LPR camera’s on garbage trucks! This is radically different from having cameras on UAV’s (those are drones for you who may not know). What next BWC’s (body worn cameras) on all officers? Oh those are coming along with the ACLU /IPA approved policy on their use which list more instances where officers are not allowed to record than when they are allowed. Has the friggin’ world gone mad? Do the people who come up with this stuff understand that they are in a perpetual state of contrsdiction?

  3. Turnabout is fair play; the IPA used garbage company bill inserts to inform the public how to make complaints against police officers.

  4. I do not understand how anyone could have a REASONABLE expectation of privacy about anything they do on a public street or any object, such as a car, that they leave on a public street.
    Sorry for the caps, but SJI software does not accept bold, underlines, or italics to express emphasis.

  5. So these are “spy” cameras? Really Jennifer? This tabloid get shoddier and shoddier each week! Is there an expectation to hide your license plate when on a city street on parked in your driveway unobstructed? Is big brother going to track your movement? Nope not with this system. Apparently SJI is either ok with skyrocketing auto theft in San Jose or they’re just looking for a Nate Jaeger approach . Either way someone needs to clue these folks in about true journalism. Josh are you listening? There is a difference between editorializing and reporting the news. Basically you people are blog moderators pretending to be news. I look forward to more laughs in the coming weeks…

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