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1984 Lately?

In a despotic act against our citizens who recently voted out red light traffic cameras throughout Houston, the city has allowed the Department of Homeland Security to install 250-300 surveillance cameras throughout downtown in the name of crime and terrorism prevention.

A 2008 study, “Evaluation of the City of Houston Digital Automated Red Light Camera Program,” by Dahnke and Stein of Rice University Center for Civic Engagement and Timothy Lomax of Texas Transportation Institute of Texas A&M University, found: The comparison of data between monitored and non-monitored approaches supports the conclusion that red light cameras are mitigating a general, more severe increase in collisions.

The traffic cameras were rejected for their ineffectiveness and also because red light tickets are classified as civil penalties, yet the city was illegally enforcing fine collection and even tried to enlist Harris County in the enforcement by refusing vehicle registrations and renewals for those who held an unpaid red light fine.

While the red light cameras have been voted out, a judge issued an injunction on their removal because the private company that the city has leased the cameras through, American Transportation Services, or ATS, has filed a lawsuit for breech of contract. The city pays ATS over $2,000 for each of the 70 cameras per month, plus $1.75 per ticket issued, or around $30,000 per month in fine commissions. To break the contract would cost over $600,000. The city and ATS both would benefit should the judge rule in favor of ATS.

In the midst of these actions, the City of Houston has spent around $14 million on installation of the cameras. In an Orwellian quote in a Chronicle interview, Dennis Storemski, Houston’s director of Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security said, “We live in an age right now where there’s really no expectation that there would be no video in a public space. Everybody that has a cell phone has a video camera. This happens all the time. We’re just doing it for public safety purposes.”

The cameras will provide live footage to the police and record the data for future recall.

Gary Blankinship of the Houston Police Officer’s Union reported a 30-50% shortage in staff to the mayor in September. Rather than hire an addition 200 officers or offer more overtime hours with the federal security grant, the city opted for cameras. But in order for them to be effective, they must be monitored at all times by an HPD staff that is already spread too thin.

Whether the red light cameras will be taken down per the vote of the people only to be replaced 3-1 by surveillance cameras remains unknown. Whether we will ever have a chance to vote out the new surveillance cameras also remains unknown. Yet, soon enough we will find out whether our voices and our votes truly hold any power.


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