Houston ordinance raises questions about surveillance value


CHICAGO (NewsNation) — As of Tuesday, businesses in Houston are required to turn over surveillance camera footage to the police, even without a warrant.

Passed by a 15-1 vote by the Houston City Council this past April following a shooting at The Galleria mall, the ordinance mandates all Houston bars, nightclubs, sexually oriented businesses, convenience stores and game rooms inside city limits have security cameras and hold footage for 30 days. They also must turn video over to police within 72 hours of any request.

“Whenever we want to be safer in our community, we have to be willing to give up some of our rights,” criminologist Alejandro del Carmen said during Thursday’s edition of NewsNation’s “Rush Hour.”

Del Carmen, who holds a Ph.D. in criminology, is an associate dean and professor at the College of Liberal and Fine Arts and the School of Criminology, Criminal Justice and Strategic Studies at Tarleton State University. He said traditionally cameras have given criminals pause. However, now that cameras are literally everywhere, they don’t have the same impact.

“In the view of many of us criminologists, there has been a diminishing return type of perspective on this that people are no longer sensitive to the fact they are being captured on camera and we’re not exactly sure they are deterring people from committing crimes, he said.

However, Arlington, Texas, police Detective Jennifer Rodriguez disagreed: “It can put a suspect there, they can’t deny they were there,” she said.

Rodriguez also maintained that she’s cleared everything from murders to hit and runs to simple burglaries thanks to the watchful eye of a camera.

“Just because we have an image doesn’t mean we’re going to recognize them, but somebody will. So if we can put those images out on social media, a lot of times we can come back and solve the case with that,” Rodriguez said.

In Rodriguez’s experience, cameras do act as deterrents.

And according to a study from the University of North Carolina’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, 50% of surveyed burglars said if they spotted a camera, they’d choose a different target.

As for Houston police being able to obtain camera footage without a warrant, Rodriguez said it’s extremely rare to even need one, as most people with cameras are happy to hand over footage of a crime even if it didn’t happen directly to them.

“I think the large majority of the public would be willing to sacrifice a little privacy. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about,” she said.

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