The Tulare Police Department late on Monday said it had discovered it was unknowingly sharing license plate reader information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and apologized for the “unfortunate mishap.”
The police department’s announcement comes days after the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California released documents showing 80 law enforcement agencies across the country – including the Tulare Police Department – were sharing license plate location data with ICE.
The documents were obtained by the ACLU of Northern California through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The records also revealed that more than 9,000 ICE agents have access to a vast automated license plate reader database run by a company called Vigilant Solutions.
In a statement, the Tulare Police Department said it looked into the matter after receiving various media inquiries on the issue. On Friday, the police department was contacted by Vigilant Solutions and became aware that because of “one box that was inadvertently checked when signing a contract with the company,” the data was, in fact, being shared with ICE.
The ACLU of Northern California said such practice was in violation of two state laws: Senate Bill 54, which is the state’s Sanctuary Law, and Senate Bill 34, which deals with automated license plate recognition systems.
The Tulare Police Department said the sharing of such information with federal immigration agents was inconsistent with the state’s Sanctuary Law and the police department’s policies.
“The Tulare Police Department will not participate in any “immigration raid” or similar activity where the sole purpose of such activity is to target noncriminal individuals based on immigration status or the deportation of noncriminal persons,” the statement says.
The ACLU of Northern California said such surveillance is an invasion of privacy and “there’s a huge amount” of civil liberty-related issues with such practice.
Tulare police Chief Wes Hensley apologized for the “unfortunate mishap” in Monday’s statement.
Tulare police spokesman Sgt. Edward Hinojosa said the police department was “kind of caught off guard,” but has taken appropriate steps to correct the issue.
License plate reader equipment can be throughout the community, mounted on patrol cars, road signs, parking lots and bridges. Hinojosa said four of the police department’s patrol vehicles are equipped with such technology.
On a daily average, each of the four license plate reader systems would be able to capture hundreds of license plates, he said.
“I assume there was a lot of paperwork involved, and it was one of those things where (the contract) wasn’t read thoroughly,” he said. “I can’t point fingers or say exactly what happened.”
The police department has halted the use of all of its four license plate readers attached to patrol cars until it knows the problem has been rectified by Vigilant Solutions.
A spokeswoman for Vigilant Solutions didn’t return a call Monday seeking comment.
ICE spokesman Mathew Bourke said the law enforcement agencies may have been sharing data with the vendor – Vigilant Solutions – and not directly with ICE.
The Merced Police Department, Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office, Manteca Police Department and the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office were also on the list of 80 law enforcement agencies sharing license plate reader data with ICE.
The Manteca Police Department last week denied the claims, while officials in Merced said they were going to undertake a review of the issue.
The San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office said it has suspended the use of its license plate reader system until further consultation with county counsel.