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Houston Expands Downtown Surveillance, Unsure If It Helps 60

Posted by timothy
from the someone-is-getting-fat-on-this dept.
SpaceGhost writes "The Associated Press reports that the Houston (Texas) Police will be adding 180 surveillance cameras in the downtown area, bringing the total to close to 1000. While most cover public areas (stadiums, theater district) the police suggest that Houston also has more 'critical infrastructure' (energy companies) than other cities. Interestingly AP points out that 'Officials say data is not kept to determine if the cameras are driving down crime.' Didn't London face the same issue?"
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Houston Expands Downtown Surveillance, Unsure If It Helps

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    If they're not keeping data for tracking crime rates, then what is the point?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Because you can't get kickbacks if you don't spend money...

    • by mevets (322601) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @05:59PM (#45790819)

      The point is to sell surveillance equipment; have you been asleep for a decade?
      The invested parties - police, politicians, journalists, arms dealers and church leaders all have a problem: Crime is on a long decreasing trend, and nobody knows why!
      The police, to justify monstrous budgets, love surveillance gear. On the odd occasion it is useful for something other than catching shady cops, it makes for great TV. Great TV makes for proud citizens; and easy budget cycles. Journalists love great footage, so they can collect paycheques without working for it.
      Politicians love police (from a certain distance) since they lend a sheen of goodness to their creepy incompetence.

      This makes for easy pickings for the surveillance industry to sell boatloads of worthless crap to incompetents who have been trusted with your money. The last thing they need is some bearded hippy pointing out that it is all a scam.

      • by ArhcAngel (247594) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:55PM (#45791285)
        I suspect it is part of the settlement [chron.com] with the company that got screwed when Houstonians said no to red light cameras AFTER the city implemented them without asking the citizens if they wanted them.
        • HPD is fucking worthless. Those pigs could give a rats ass if your shit is stolen. Short of a murder happening, they'll tell you to grab a xeroxed copy of a form, fill it out, and place it into the bin. No doubt makes it easy to toss into the shredder at the end of the day. And that's on a good day. Normally, a COP will just give you a WTF look at which point you might be arrested for wasting their time.

          You're better of dealing with a Sheriff or State Trooper. Those guys are easy to deal with. Most have bee

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Agreed. I've called HPD three times since I moved to Houston - once for a burglary that had happened in the previous 20 minutes, once for a possible crime in progress, and once for an emergency in progress. They did not send anyone to investigate any of the incidents. In the case of the burglary, a smartphone was taken that had its location tracker activated. After a couple hours, the thief turned on the phone and I obtained an address, with the GPS error bubble smaller than the house on the map. HPD refuse

    • They're hoping to get a "Person of Interest" spinoff set in Houston.

    • by bonehead (6382)

      Because preventing crime isn't the purpose of the cameras. That's just the sales pitch that's trotted out to get the public to accept their presence.

    • by Dishevel (1105119)

      If they're not keeping data for tracking crime rates, then what is the point?

      Ha, Ha, Ha! Oh goodness. You really have no idea how governments work. Do you?

  • but apparently criminals still commit crimes when other people can witness it.
  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @05:47PM (#45790697)

    But I'm sure they'd never tie the data in to the "voluntary" DNA swabbing [nbcdfw.com] done last month.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Well I dont even know why they bother with the cameras in the UK. The one thing the police dont want to be involved in is normal ' crime. They cant solve it and it makes their clean up figure look bad any thing that involves fines they can keep is a different matter.

      Report your house broken into you will just be given a crime number for the insurance forms. Try reporting a fraud, you will be told like I was a) its not a crime ,b) they dont deal with it here followed by ring this number if you insi

  • Well... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by beh (4759) * on Thursday December 26, 2013 @05:51PM (#45790731)

    'Officials say data is not kept to determine if the cameras are driving down crime.'

    It seems to me, that if there _WERE_ concrete evidence of crime being reduced, they _WOULD_ keep data.

    If the cities would collect data, that does NOT show a drop in crime, then city officials might be criticized for the whole operation... ...without the data - it's hard to nail them down on it...

    • If the cities would collect data, that does NOT show a drop in crime, then city officials might be criticized for the whole operation... ...without the data - it's hard to nail them down on it...

      Or c) Almost all crimes are a matter of public record in the United States. Them not releasing statistics doesn't really mean anything. Black and white thinking: It'll screw you every time.

      • by s.petry (762400)

        Well, if they are not keeping record of how the person was originally reported C would be of no relevance. Kind of like when an Anonymous person calls the cops because of a suspicious guy taking money from people in cars and returning small baggies, the cops may or may not enter that as evidence. In many cases they don't because it's of no value to the case.

        In the case of all these cameras however, the public should be demanding to know how much impact it has since they are paying for it. It's quite poss

        • Kind of like when an Anonymous person calls the cops because of a suspicious guy taking money from people in cars and returning small baggies, the cops may or may not enter that as evidence. In many cases they don't because it's of no value to the case.

          That's an incredibly stupid thing to say. Police tend to enter into the record what they considered probable cause. "Anonymous" phone calls... in this day and age? Pretty amusing. But even if you were right... there'd still be a record of the call, and that would be part of the criminal complaint.

          You clearly don't understand how the justice system works. They document and record everything.

          • by s.petry (762400)
            Maybe in your world police record everything, but I have worked with (not for) police and law enforcement for decades. Will their training tell them they should record everything? Yeah, but what we are told to do and what works in reality are normally two different things.
    • by Scutter (18425)

      If they collect data on it, then it could possibly be used to prove that the cameras don't deter crime. Then people might start to complain about pesky things like "civil liberties" and "privacy" and "freedom". If they don't collect the data at all, then detractors have no way to argue against it.

    • by dkman (863999)
      Do the meeting minutes look something like this:

      Scenario: We have this proposal to spend lots of taxpayer dollars putting cameras up.
      Side note: I didn't read the article, but I assume this comes with a monthly expense to monitor the footage.
      Official: Do we have any information for or against putting these cameras up?
      Person: No.
      Official: Would we have any numbers to tell whether the cameras do any good?
      Person: No, but you own stock in the company.
      Official: Well then put up some cameras.
    • I'm intrigued, what sort of "data" would conclusively show that cameras do/don't reduce crime? How would you account for other factors such as unemployment?
  • to tie the cameras to the ability to close cases as opposed to a deterrent for crime?
    • Why? Is it a goal of society to put even more people behind bars? I don't know about you, but I'd rather have fewer criminal cases to prosecute in the first place.
      • I'd rather have fewer criminal cases to prosecute in the first place

        Here in Oz they are seen as a deterrent, the police themselves will tell you. They can't make a drunk act responsibly but they can intervene faster in the case of a drunken brawl. the people they deter are sober trouble-makers, bag-snatchers, etc, these people simply shift there operations away from the cameras.

      • In a sane society, we can close cases with appropriate remedies rather than just locking everyone up for everything. It's far better for a criminal to be caught at a crime and have some kind of negative feedback than to rely on poor enforcement to make sure the people getting away with it combined with the people sent to crime college for a few years averages to a just level....

  • People argue about pennies spent on school lunches, but can't be bothered to track millions spent on surveillance? Numerous cities, especially New York, have demonstrated that contemporaneous analysis of data, and general analysis of trends and patterns, can make a big difference in incidents. (We all think tech is cool in a Tom Clancy novel, or a military operation; why not for police?)
    • by nbauman (624611)

      People argue about pennies spent on school lunches, but can't be bothered to track millions spent on surveillance? Numerous cities, especially New York, have demonstrated that contemporaneous analysis of data, and general analysis of trends and patterns, can make a big difference in incidents.

      Are you talking about CompStat? Where have they proven that?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      (We all think tech is cool in a Tom Clancy novel, or a military operation; why not for police?)

      Because in real life, the government is run by imperfect, corrupt humans who will not hesitate to abuse any powers you give them. Mass surveillance of public places is simply not a good idea.

  • Unless you have personnel watching these cameras 24/7, then you're not going to prevent anything. Cameras don't prevent crimes, they just help after the fact. Our school systems has installed hundreds of cameras under the guise of student safety. But only a few people view them, and not even constantly. So they're not going to prevent a school shooting, or any other crime. Perhaps it'll help catch some vandals or theft, but it seems that most shooters kill themselves anyways.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by minstrelmike (1602771)
      24/7 monitoring doesn't happen.

      While some folks are terrified/paranoid about NSA monitoring, the real story is there are two types of monitoring.
      One is the real-time monitoring that google does. That's all keyword based so when I type in an e-mail about guitars, I get served up ads for guitars or music shops or something. That's the _evidence_ that people use to say the NSA is watching our every move. Except google isn't watching anybody in particular, they are just serving up ads based on typed words

      T
      • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @07:13PM (#45791449)

        The paranoid conflate those two into this all-seeing, all-encompassing "They're watching everybody all the time."

        The realists know that because of the inexorable march of technology the two are converging. For example, automatic license plate readers which didn't exist when license plates were made a legal requirement are now so widespread that nearly every repoman has one on his dashboard feeding a centralized and permanent database. [nytimes.com]

      • Hey, this is a police state. I don't like that political stance about defunding my program. Let's dig through the archives and see if we can tie them to any unsolved crimes, or see when they're out and about to "discover" if this dope we've got was actually at their place all along...

        You're aware COINTELPRO is a thing right? [wikipedia.org]

        I'm a scientist, if you say spying is beneficial, then I say prove it. If you say, "well we can't because, secrecy", then I call bullshit - You have to provide evidence and refute the

    • by jonbryce (703250) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:17PM (#45790969) Homepage

      The idea is that that criminals will see the cameras and decide not to commit the crime because there is too much risk of being caught.

      What happens in the UK is that hooded tops, baseball caps and scarves became a very popular fashion choice, so that the cameras can't see who you are.

  • An Exxon office building is not really "critical infrastructure". The Houston area does have some plants that could produce nasty results if someone did something nefarious to them, but they aren't located where these cameras are being put in (and have their own security, anyway).

  • by hoboroadie (1726896) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:04PM (#45790853)

    The city has spent more than $18 million in federal money to build its camera system and has another $5 million in reserve.
    Houston also has expanded its video network through private sharing agreements, such as by accessing networks along rail lines.
    Officials say data is not kept to determine if the cameras are driving down crime.

    Implementation in anticipation of application.

  • DHS reasoning (Score:5, Insightful)

    by minstrelmike (1602771) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:14PM (#45790937)
    The reason they say the cameras aren't for crime reduction is because that is measurable. If we say it is to protect critical infrastructure and no terrorist attacks occur in Houston, well obviously the system worked and it was money well spent.

    Same as the justification for TSA. The bin Laden operation was a one shot deal. After it happened, no one would be able to hijack a fully-loaded (public) airplane and use it as a flying bomb. In fact, only 3 of the 4 planes hijacked on 9/11 were successful. Once we knew this wasn't your regular hijacking to Cuba, passengers responded.

    But since we set up all these security lines and prevent people from bringing on shampoo and dangerous trinkets, then TSA is obviously the reason for our success.
    Frankly, if we had door locks on airplane cabins, I suspect no one could take over an airplane even with box cutters now.
  • Interestingly AP points out that 'Officials say data is not kept to determine if the cameras are driving down crime.'

    If they kept such data around, somebody might try to halt the corrupt-politicians/connected-crony-contractor gravy train by publicizing the fact that it does not fulfill it's officially-stated purpose.

    Not that halting it would happen just because of massive corruption being exposed. One has only to look at the example set by the Rape-A-Scan corruption debacle. The government basically reacted to being caught with "fuck you".

    Been a lot of that from the government lately regardless of which political party is

  • by Sigvatr (1207234) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @06:42PM (#45791191)
    The cameras are not placed there to prevent crime, but to assist in criminal investigation.
  • Houston Expands Downton Surveillance

    I love watching that show too.

  • Please spend this on education and food instead. You'll save more lives that way than with the cameras. Take the long view.

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