BARSTOW, CA — The City Council has allocated up to $850,000 to replace aging technology and improve community safety.
On Monday, the Council approved the expenditure of funds from Measure Q, a one-cent sales tax taht voters passed passed in 2018.
The Barstow Police Department plans to use the money to replace computers, radios, and in-dash cameras in their patrol vehicles, set up automatic license plate readers in the city, and contract with a security company to transport prisoners.
Plans call for the Barstow Fire Protection District to set up a "Tablet Command System," consisting of iPads that provide real-time updates on calls for service and give firefighters details on hydrant locations and building plans, among other information.
The $850,000 represents the largest allotment of tax revenue after Measure Q went into effect on April 1, raising the city's sales tax to 8.75%. Supporters said the tax was needed to help save a struggling fire district, while opponents questioned the levy on a cash-strapped city.
City Manager Nikki Salas and department heads emphasized the need was immediate, in part, to modernize the BFPD.
"What our fire departments use to get information on your calls, you'd be surprised on how bad their technology currently is and how well they work with what they have," Salas said.
BFPD Chief Jamie Williams said the purchase of tablets for fire engines would be "the first software-based anything in our field units."
Fire crews currently use paper maps to get to the scene of a medical aid or fire.
"I'm not even sure I was born when they were drawn," said Williams.
With the tablets, Williams said firefighters would receive updates by dispatch automatically and information, including hazards, about the address to which they are summoned.
Barstow Police Chief Albert Ramirez Jr. said in addition to replacing outdated equipment in squad cars, the department intends to mount automatic license plate readers on traffic lights and street poles in at least 12 locations.
Also known as ALPRs, the system uses high-speed, computer-controlled cameras to scan license plates and send alerts when hitting on a wanted or stolen car or a plate an agency may be investigating.
"ALPRs will be utilized by officers to reduce crime, solve crime and to protect our community more effectively and efficiently," Ramirez said.
The systems have been criticized by digital rights and civil liberties groups, however, for potential threats to privacy.
Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Hernandez asked Ramirez how the department would address these concerns from citizens worried about "Big Brother."
Ramirez said the department would have to comply with a law the state's legislature passed in 2015. Under SB 34, public agencies are prohibited from selling, sharing or transferring ALPR data collected except to other public agencies.
BPD would also be required to post its policy describing the system and how the cameras and data collected are used.
A $125,000 annual contract was also approved as part of the allotment to allow BPD to contract with the security company G4S to transport prisoners to jail.
Ramirez said the transition would help keep more officers in Barstow who would otherwise be occupied with taking arrestees to facilities outside city limits.
"We could lose an officer almost for an entire shift, almost 12 hours from them actually working and patrolling the city," the police chief said.
The move would also cut down on overtime, Ramirez said.
More than $2 million was collected from Measure Q during the first three months of its enactment. The Council previously approved about $73,000 of the revenue to replace police body cameras and purchase a crack sealer.
According to the city, about $1.1 million had been generated through Measure Q in July and August.
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