Be sure to smile for the cameras if you visit the Westchase District.
A West Houston nonprofit group on Tuesday applied for city permission to install the first of a dozen security cameras it plans to purchase to reduce crime in the affluent neighborhood.
Images from the cameras will be fed to the Houston Police Department as part of an ongoing city initiative to assemble a network of hundreds of security cameras to monitor public streets, stadiums, freeways and the Port of Houston.
Calling it a prime example of a private-public partnership for public safety, HPD Assistant Chief Vickie King said the westside initiative is allowed by city ordinance.
"Communities who want to install cameras that capture movements on the public right of way may do so, so long as private property is shielded from view," she said.
The proposed camera system was introduced Tuesday by Houston businessman Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale and his wife, Linda, who live in an apartment at the Westside Tennis and Fitness Center, which they own. McIngvale said he became a fan of camera-surveillance technology because it quickly ended auto thefts and burglaries after he installed them at his furniture business.
"Police are stretched on their budgets, so it's something we wanted to do as merchants," said McIngvale, a member of the nonprofit Operation Westside Success, which is raising money for the system. "We've got a big economic stake in this, and it's up to us to make our neighborhoods better."
Dennis Storemski, director of the Mayor's Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, said the city has 25 surveillance cameras in the central business district and is using federal grants to tie into state highway-department cameras on Houston freeways, as well as cameras monitoring the Houston Ship Channel and port facilities.
James Murphy, general manager of the Westchase District, said cameras the improvement district installed on private property outside restaurants and shopping malls led to a dramatic reduction in crime.
"We have 11 cameras we're using, and it's fantastic," Murphy said. "We've reduced parking-lot crime in those locations 70 percent on average, and in some areas more. We're talking about auto theft, auto break-ins and robberies."
The use of closed-circuit television in city and town centres and public housing estates does not have a significant effect on crime, according to Home Office-funded research to be distributed to all police forces in England and Wales this summer.
The review of 44 research studies on CCTV schemes by the Campbell Collaboration found that they do have a modest impact on crime overall but are at their most effective in cutting vehicle crime in car parks, especially when used alongside improved lighting and the introduction of security guards.