State Auditor Elaine Howle has agreed to conduct a review of how law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles, Sacramento County and Fresno are using license plate readers, the result of a proposal last week by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco.

The auditor's investigation is expected to take seven months and cost about $370,000.

“When misused, this data and powerful analytics software accompanying it can be used as masked surveillance,” Wiener said.

Lt. Dan Gomez of the Los Angeles Police Department said his office doesn’t store data in the cloud and safeguards people’s information. He stressed the importance of the software.

“We find the information completely valuable from an investigative standpoint,” Gomez said.

Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, encouraged the police departments to embrace the review.

“It’s not an indictment of the work you do,” Monning said. “It’s a partnership to examine systems and review policies. ... We’re not bringing you here to say, ‘Gotcha.’ We want to know how this is working.”

Some lawmakers questioned why Fresno was added to the list of cities.

Sen. Andreas Borgeas, R-Fresno, and Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, suggested Wiener unfairly targeted their district to thwart Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, who arrested undocumented immigrants at the courthouse last year.

“My concern is this appears to be a benign inquiry,” Borgeas said. “This is being back-doored into the immigration discussion.”

Fresno police Sgt. Steve Casto said the city is committed to protecting residents’ privacy.

“Our officers love the service license plate readers provide,” Casto said. “The information is kept for one year unless it becomes part of a criminal investigation. After that, it is purged.”

Wiener said immigration concerns played a role in his decision to bring the audit forward, but he said “it’s not the primary concern we’re doing this.”

“My goal is not to ban this technology, but I think we can acknowledge it should be used the way it’s supposed to be used,” Wiener said.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee kept the vote open for absent members but had enough support to approve Wiener’s request. Republicans declined to vote, while all Democrats in attendance backed the proposal.

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