Houston City Council is expected to vote on an ordinance at its April 20 meeting that would add and amend sections of the city code by requiring security cameras and lighting at certain businesses.
The ordinance—pitched as a measure to increase public safety—would require that all Houston nightclubs, bars, sexually oriented businesses, convenience stores and game rooms install security cameras to ensure coverage from the exterior of the business to its property line. Under the new amendments, convenience stores would also be required to have lights outside with at least six foot-candles in brightness—enough to illuminate a 6-square-foot surface from the source of the light—in in any area customers are allowed.
According to the ordinance, cameras must operate at all times, and the lighting must be on from sunset to sunrise.
If the ordinance passes, requirements would go into effect 90 days after approval and will require that camera owners or operators keep videos for no fewer than 30 days. If the footage is requested by the Houston Police Department, the operator must provide it within 72 hours.
The item was tagged during the council’s April 13 meeting by District C Council Member Abbie Kamin, District F Council Member Tiffany Thomas and at-large Council Member Sallie Alcorn. Thomas said she tagged the item because some business owners in her district are not English speakers and could use more of a heads up before the requirements set in.
During the April 13 meeting, Martha Castex-Tatum, vice mayor pro tem and District K council member, expressed her support for the requirements. In researching the ordinance with city agencies, Castex-Tatum said she found many nuisances and crime taking place at convenience stores in the city. The security cameras and lighting, she said, would help HPD better identify people engaging in illegal activity.
“We have an opportunity to help solve some crimes in the city of Houston,” Castex-Tatum said. “This helps businesses to be safe and helps their customers to remain safe.”
At-large Council Member Mike Knox spoke out against the ordinance during the April 13 meeting, arguing if the intent is to help solve crimes, it should be applied to every business in the city. Knox said he would be more likely to vote for the ordinance if it did not unfairly target the five specific business types.
Mayor Sylvester Turner said this ordinance will strategically cover the places where crimes are being committed. Other council members said they supported Knox’s views but said the item could always be expanded later on.
During an April 19 public session, Savannah Kumar, a Samuels Family Legal Fellow for the American Civil Liberties Union, spoke in opposition to the ordinance. Kumar said the ACLU finds the ordinance to be unconstitutional, citing privacy violations. Owners and operators should not have to provide the police with footage unless there is a warrant with probable cause, which she said was not reflected in the wording of the proposed ordinance.
Turner said the ordinance is not in violation of privacy rights because the cameras are public facing, and the footage will only be taken from an owner or operator in the event of an incident. Turner said he also wants the cameras to serve as a deterrent to criminals.
The proposed ordinance is a part of Turner’s One Safe Houston plan, which aims to reduce violence in the city, among other goals
“If we are going to be serious about fighting crime in Houston, we have to provide the resources and what’s needed to help HPD solve these crimes,” Castex-Tatum said.