And now, homeowners throughout the Bay Area and in other U.S. cities are turning to license plate readers as a next line of defense against property crime. The trend has helped generate a fertile market for companies that make the technology, though it also has raised concerns about privacy and led some academics to wonder whether people’s desire for protection has gone too far.
For Joseph Narvaez, a resident of Richmond’s Country Club Vista neighborhood — a community of single-family homes nestled by a golf course — a license plate recognition system seemed logical. He manages the one that his homeowners association purchased in March from an Atlanta startup called Flock Safety, now a leader in the home security sphere.
“We needed something to deter crime,” Narvaez said, describing the burglaries, car break-ins, doorstep package thefts and occasional street races that plague his neighborhood. He said crime has gone down since the association installed solar-powered cameras on black poles, clustering them at busy intersections and pumping the footage to an internet cloud that Narvaez can access with a password. Flock Safety charges $2,000 a year to install and maintain each camera, and provides signs to alert people they are being watched.