Houston requires cameras with light at crime-heavy businesses to capture the action outside their facility starting Tuesday.
As part of the One Safe Houston Initiative, convenience stores, nightclubs, bars, game rooms, and sexually-oriented businesses must have high-resolution surveillance cameras that capture video 24 hours a day.
Businesses are required to provide an overall view of the exterior of their property, up to the property line, and store video for at least 30 days.
They also must have lighting that illuminates all areas customers have access to.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson with the Houston Police Department told reporters that they do not expect to issue any citations regarding the new ordinance but want to continue educating business owners before handing over a fine.
HPD also said they are not doing proactive checks to see which businesses are complying and which ones are not at this time. So how exactly will this work?
“If today someone said, ‘I am simply not following this,’ I believe HPD would issue a citation. So, there are teeth to this, but the whole point is to get voluntary compliance. Because the point of (the ordinance) is to aid the businesses in reducing crime at their locations,” explained Arturo Michel, attorney for the city of Houston.
Business owners who are not in compliance may be given a misdemeanor citation.
The ordinance also requires business owners to turn over video related to criminal investigations to police within 72 hours, with no warrant needed. Concerns about violations of the Fourth Amendment have been brought up.
Michel says because these private businesses are public areas, this is not considered a search.
“I know there are developing theories that say, ‘If you target a person enough in public areas, it may be considered a search.’ That’s not what we are doing here. This is not surveillance to identify people. This is when a crime is being committed, these businesses call HPD. HPD is trying to find out what happened,” Michel said.
HPD said they would start with businesses that have had crime issues in the past and hope the owners comply without giving a citation.
Though some of the specifics of this new ordinance are still unclear at this point, HPD Executive Chief Matt Slinkard told reporters last month that their goal is to work with business owners for a more safe city.
“We have a lot of wonderful, conscientious business owners in Houston and Harris County, Texas, that do have cameras. And they are concerned about public safety in and around their premises. However, some do not, and that makes it a challenge for law enforcement when we are trying to control violent crime in these areas,” Slinkard said.