Houston council member: Security camera rule can deter crime

Southwest

(NewsNation) — An ordinance passed by the city of Houston requires businesses such as bars and convenience stores to install security cameras and provide footage from them to the police if requested— even if they don’t have a warrant.

Abbie Kamin, a Houston City Council member, said on NewsNation’s “Morning in America” that this ordinance, which went into effect Tuesday, is not about surveillance.

“This ordinance is about responding to crimes being committed overwhelmingly on a few certain types of properties, and allowing HPD to respond to those crimes and hopefully deter crime,” she said.

Under the ordinance, Houston bars, nightclubs, sexually oriented businesses, convenience stores and games rooms in city limits must have security cameras, and turn over their footage to police within 72 hours of it being requested, or face fines.

“These locations have the highest rates of violent crime in our city,” Kamin said. “In fact, in 2021, HPD responded to over 10,000 crimes at these locations.”

Kamin said these crimes included homicides and aggravated assaults.

“I think any conversation around violent crime, we also need to be talking about gun violence,” she said.

Many of the crimes deemed “violent” are being committed with guns, Kamin said. And with Gov. Greg Abbott saying that Texas is a Second Amendment sanctuary state, this has left cities to fend for themselves, she added.

But the ordinance has faced some criticism, however. The Houston Chronicle reports that advocates such as the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights project said ordering this footage without a warrant threatens residents’ Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless surveillance.

“Warrants help to ensure that police action is supported by probable cause,” the organizations wrote in a letter to the Houston mayor and police chief, according to the Chronicle.”Without such a requirement, the ordinance emboldens the police to demand that business owners turn over days or weeks of surveillance footage as part of fishing expeditions to discover trivial infractions committed by business owners, employees, customers or passersby.”

Black Houstonians, the letter warned, are likely to be even more heavily policed and criminalized because of the ordinance.

Kamin said another ordinance was passed in 2008 that had similar language, focusing on convenience stores. Stakeholder meetings were held before it was voted on by the council.

“I do recognize the additional costs to business to implement this. But again, the majority of these businesses don’t want these activities taking place on their properties, in their parking lots, or on the streets outside of their properties,” she said.

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