Sacramento Police PODs: Crime Fighting Tool or Invasion of Privacy

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SACRAMENTO-- They're popping up on power poles all over Sacramento.

Cops call them PODSs, or Police Observation Devices.

"Initially, we introduced two pods into the community," Sacramento Police Sergeant Bryan Heinlein said. "And right now we're at 30 pods throughout the city of Sacramento."

But what exactly are they observing?

These 30 pods, with three cameras a piece, are recording 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

So far, they are mostly tracking stolen vehicles.

"We've had over 700 recoveries of stolen vehicles many of them have resulted in arrests," Heinlein said.

Heinlein says officers are not actively monitoring pods -- yet.

However, he says they've been a terrific investigative tool since detectives can request to view video recorded near crime scenes.

"In some very high-profile cases, they've been useful, such as the Spencer Stone incident as well as the JJ Clavo investigation," Heinlein told FOX40.

Some pods are equipped with automated license plate readers that constantly scan plates for stolen vehicles, drivers with felony warrants and vehicles linked to missing persons.

The technology can red flag a car and send an alert to a nearby patrol officer, who can then to head to that location.

South Sacramento business owner Jose Murillo noticed this pod pop up right in front of his business, Salon de Balleza Mary.

"We're standing here today,” Murillo said. “Can they zoom in on us? Can they even hear us?"

While he's merely curious about the video quality and appreciates the added protection, others have real concerns about privacy.

"You don't know if they're giving that information to Google or any of these big Internet companies and using data," neighbor Alex San Martin said.

While Sacramento Police do have the ability to share data online, Sergeant Heinlein says they only share it with other law enforcement agencies, and only if those agencies request a snapshot of something that occurred at a pod intersection for an investigation.

But some think all the data they accumulate is taking a snapshot of their daily routines.

"They basically can record all of our associations and where we go, who we see, where we slept, over time because they record all the location data," ACLU Development Manager Tessa D’Arcangelew said.

She says people in Sacramento have been contacting them about growing legal concerns surrounding these pods and their use policies.

"The thing about these technologies is they've grown exponentially, far faster than the laws ability to catch up with them," D’Arcangelew said.

But this year, California law did catch up to them. In January, Senate Bill 34 went into effect, imposing new requirements on operators of automated license plate readers.

It says operators must take reasonable measures to protect the information they collect against data breaches and implement usage and privacy policies with regard to the collection, maintenance and sharing of this information.

It gives the California Highway Patrol 60 days to retain license plate data, unless it becomes part of a felony investigation.

"And then the (license plate reader) data is stored for up to two years," Heinlien said.

Since the Sacramento Police Department's POD program has been in place since 2014 they are working on complying with the new law. They say video not investigated gets stored for 14 to 24 days, and then destroyed.

"When people commit crimes in our city, we want them to know they're not gonna get away with it," Heinlein said.

Soon, more cameras will be popping up around town. The Sacramento Police Department plans to install 20 more pods by the end of the year -- 10 throughout the city and 10 around the new Golden 1 Center downtown.

Heinlein says by September, officers will be actively monitoring pods in a real-time crime center.

"It's only going to help Sacramento be a safer place," Heinlein said.

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