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Video Surveillance of Downtown Houston to Expand

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    NBC 5 News
    The City of Dallas has more than 140 cameras in downtown, such as the one above, and hopes to add more.

    Police surveillance of downtown Houston is expanding with 180 new cameras that will bring the number of video feeds available to law enforcement authorities by early 2014 to nearly 1,000.

    The Houston Chronicle reported Thursday most cameras are pointed on public areas around downtown, including its theater district and stadiums.

    "With all the homeland security requirements that we have -- we have more critical infrastructure to protect than New York City -- we can't do it without video," Police Chief Charles McClelland told the newspaper.

    The city has spent more than $18 million in federal money to build its camera system and has another $5 million in reserve.

    In Dallas, the city has more than 140 cameras installed downtown and uptown and the funds to nearly double that number.

    Houston also has expanded its video network through private sharing agreements, such as by accessing networks along rail lines.

    The expansion comes despite shrinking national security grants for video surveillance and studies showing mixed results on whether the presence of cameras improves public safety.

    Nancy La Vigne, a justice policy researcher with the nonprofit Urban Institute, said cameras help but can't replace beat officers.

    "You need that human interaction," said La Vigne, whose 2011 study of surveillance networks showed variances in their effectiveness.

    In Baltimore, for example, where officers were trained to monitor video feeds, crime was reduced. In Chicago, while cameras at one park cut the crime rate in half, they had little impact at another, according to the study.

    But C.O. Bradford, a Houston city councilman and former Houston police chief, said the technology is necessary.

    "It is almost professional malpractice not to have technology deployed in public areas where you know large groups of people are going to gather on a regular basis," he said.

    Bradford and other council members approved the money earlier this month for the 180 new cameras downtown.

    Dennis Storemski, the Houston mayor's director of public safety and homeland security, said the city doesn't track the number of investigations that use video surveillance or whether areas with high concentrations of cameras have seen changes in crime rates.

    But he cites instances where cameras helped with capture of a frequent car thief and where use of a live camera feed allowed officers to more accurately assess a phone caller's report of a violent protest.