Thursday, November 25, 2010
The eyes of Texas are upon you...
Smile, if you're in downtown Houston
Homeland Security picking up tab for 250-300 surveillance cameras
The city is installing 250 to 300 cameras at downtown intersections in an effort to prevent and fight terrorism and crime, part of a security initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The cameras, which the city began installing in earnest this summer, already have helped police catch car burglars in the act, said Dennis Storemski, the city's director of the Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security. Eventually, he said, the cameras could be used to allow dispatchers or officers approaching a crime scene to survey what's happening from their patrol vehicles before they arrive.
"The intent is to protect critical infrastructure and prevent terrorism," he said. "Experience has shown that when people plan terroristic acts, they plan and they do dry runs, so what we would be looking for is suspicious activity around certain locations. And for any crimes, you can go back and look at the video and identify the perpetrators."
More than 50 cameras already have been installed around the George R. Brown Convention Center, Discovery Green Park, the theater district and Minute Maid Park. Every downtown intersection will be equipped with a camera. Eventually, Storemski said, the program may be expanded to include the Reliant Stadium complex, the Port of Houston, even some city parks where festivals frequently are held.
The footage can be monitored in real time by police and after the fact through a computer network built during the past three years.
The cameras will allow police to monitor any scene from several viewpoints at once rather than having to staff events with officers surveying the scene in binoculars, he said.
For some who passed by the northeast corner of Milam and Texas early Wednesday, where a crew installed one such surveillance device, the idea was alarming.
"I'm not in favor of it," said Mike Wells, who was walking to his office across the street.
The cost of operating the cameras, as well as their capability to invade privacy, was troubling, he said.
"That's big government watching our every move," he said.
Chris Goldsmith, who works downtown, said he was most concerned with the cost to taxpayers of installing and operating the cameras.