With trial run a success, West University moves ahead to install 'Virtual Gate' surveillance cameras

HOUSTON, Texas -- A trial run of a camera system for surveillance and license plate-reading in West University Place has captured at least 95% of plates of vehicles traveling through city entrances since July 27.

The city was expected to finish its testing phase of the camera system, known as Virtual Gate, by Aug. 27, with cameras at Bissonnet Street and Buffalo Speedway and at West Holcombe Boulevard and Brompton Road, West U police chief Ken Walker told the city council during its Aug. 24 meeting.

"The proof of concept turned out better than I hoped," Walker said.

The cameras cover all lanes of traffic and alert police of any vehicles that are stolen, associated with Amber or Silver alerts, or are registered to individuals with a record of violent crimes.

The system can also send out alerts to officers if registered sex offenders enter areas prohibited to them, domestic violence suspects enter areas of concern, or those who have made violent threats pass through the area, and they are able to provide a live feed for dispatchers.

The proof of concept acts as a trial run that has allowed West U and the system's contractor, Minuteman Security Technologies, to ensure the cameras are working as intended.

The concept is included in Phase 1 of the project, made up of two phases at a total cost of $4.5 million, paid for through a certificate of obligation bond to be paid back by the city over the next 15 years.

Once the proof of concept period is complete, West U will coordinate with Minuteman to immediately begin installing cameras at 15 other locations throughout entrances to the city for the remainder of Phase I, with expected completion by the end of 2020, Walker told the council.

"I'd be surprised if we aren't done by the end of November," Walker said. "However the estimated completion date is December 2020."

The proof of concept was originally set to finish by the end of July and early August, but front end work and ordering the needed poles for the cameras delayed the project, Walker said.

Meanwhile, an additional 25 locations for cameras will make up Phase 2, with a tentative completion date sometime before mid-2021.

As the project moves forward, West U city council will mull whether to save time on the project by shortening a planned two to three-month pause between Phases 1 and 2 to ensure the cameras are working properly.

In October, the council is expected to receive an update on the status of the installed Phase 1 cameras.

This story was published through our partnership with Community Impact Newspapers.