HPD's top cop wants 'thousands' of cameras to deter crime, but experts worry it'll do more harm

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Thursday, November 30, 2023
HPD's new plan calls for more cameras, but neighbors would foot bill
Houston police's latest initiative to crack down on crime has some privacy concerns about added surveillance and how every homeowner should buy the devices.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- If criminals knew a camera was on every block, Houston's top cop believes crime would go down, but some experts caution more surveillance may do more harm than good.

If Houston Police Chief Troy Finner had his way, you'd see a lot more cameras around the city.

"I want thousands," Finner said. "Thousands. The more, the better."

Finner's talking about cameras and license plate readers. On Wednesday, he announced a new plan to get more eyes in the sky. He calls it "Project Safe View." It's a plan to get more neighbors and businesses to install the technology.

"If you know that every time that you're doing something, you're going to be on somebody's camera, you're going to think twice about it," Finner explained. "If you are brave enough to do it, we have that footage."

One example ABC13 received from footage helping to solve a case was from a robbery last month in the Heights in the 3700 block of Center Street. Officers released the video, and an arrest was made.

Groups concerned about privacy, though, caution about how more cameras can impact civil liberties.

"Every single infraction- jaywalking, vandalism, having a beer on your stoop - things that presumably go unenforced all the time suddenly become quite enforceable," Electronic Frontier Foundation senior policy analyst Matthew Guariglia explained.

Houston isn't the first city to plead for cameras. Seven years ago, Detroit launched Project Green Light - a plan to partner with businesses and tap into cameras in high-crime areas. The National Institute of Justice released a study showing the cameras made no difference in reducing violent crime. They did help lower property crimes, though, by 27%.

"I don't think there's any evidence to suggest that a proliferation of surveillance reduces crime in part because we have so much footage of crime happening," Guariglia said. "Cameras going up everywhere and blanketing a city does not stop people from committing crimes."

HPD hopes footage from on private property will be shared following an incident. If you're approached by police, experts say consider asking if officers have a warrant.

"If they really need that footage, they should be able to go to a judge and explain why they need it, and the judge has to be able to sign off on it," Guariglia explained. "I don't think you're offending officers, or you shouldn't be by saying you really want a judge to verify that you really need my footage."

Project Safe View doesn't come with any taxpayer money. Neighbors and businesses would have to pay for the equipment.

Cameras and license plate readers cost hundreds of dollars. And it's not just cameras. Finner also wants people to have at least a month of storage - an added cost, for multiple cameras that can be more than $100 a year.

"I get it," Finner said. "Sometimes $20, $30 makes the difference. So, you're talking to the chief who's from the neighborhood who came up hard. I get all that. People who can afford it, make a good decision, and let's all work together."

Finner said the increased cameras will deter crime. However, when we asked for statistics, he had none.

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