Solana Beach will become the latest city to install cameras that read license plates

Solana Beach will become the latest North County city to use cameras that can read license plates to help with law enforcement investigations, following a unanimous City Council vote on Jan. 25.

“This effort is part of a north coastal initiative to increase the effectiveness of law enforcement investigations, thus improving the safety and quality of life in our region,” San Diego Sheriff’s Department Lt. Christopher Lawrence told council members during the meeting.

Oceanside, San Diego, Escondido, La Mesa, Del Mar, Encinitas and Carlsbad are among the cities in San Diego County that have already begun using the technology or are about to.

Lawrence said that the cameras have been useful in responding to crimes such as stolen vehicles, stolen license plates, human trafficking and theft. But local governments and their constituents are often concerned about the privacy implications. According to sheriff’s department policy, the data collected by the cameras is stored for one year. It is not available to the public or shared with the federal government for enforcement on issues such as immigration or terrorism.

Solana Beach plans to purchase and install eight cameras on traffic signals at Via de la Valle and Valley Avenue, Via de la Valle and Highway 101 (one northbound and one westbound), Highway 101 and West Cliff Street (one southbound and one westbound), and the Interstate-5 offramp at Lomas Santa Fe (one westbound, one eastbound and one northbound). The cameras can read license plates and store them in text files on cars that are driving up to about 70 mph.

According to the city’s resolution, having eight cameras at those intersections “would provide the best initial return on investment related to the reduction of crime and successful prosecution of individuals committing crime within the city.”

A 2022 analysis found that about 57% of suspects arrested by the sheriff’s department for “serious offenses” in Solana Beach were not from the city, according to a report by Solana Beach City Manager Greg Wade.

“Just after COVID, we have seen a slight uptick in property crimes in our city,” Wade said during the meeting. “We’re a very safe community. We have pretty good freeway access for people who are looking to take advantage of our safe community, and we have high-value targets in our city.”

The eight cameras will cost approximately $34,500, which includes a three-year licensing and service fee, plus $11,500 for cellular service fees.