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Houston vs The 4th Ammendment...


Houston's Chief of Police has come up with an interesting and really scary brainstorm...

Houston eyes cameras at apartment complexes (and private homes)


HOUSTON -- Houston's police chief on Wednesday proposed placing surveillance cameras in apartment complexes, downtown streets, shopping malls and even private homes to fight crime during a shortage of police officers.

"I know a lot of people are concerned about Big Brother, but my response to that is, if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?" Chief Harold Hurtt told reporters Wednesday at a regular briefing.

Houston is facing a severe police shortage because of too many retirements and too few recruits, and the city has absorbed 150,000 hurricane evacuees who are filling apartment complexes in crime-ridden neighborhoods. The City Council is considering a public safety tax to pay for more officers.

Building permits should require malls and large apartment complexes to install surveillance cameras, Hurtt said. And if a homeowner requires repeated police response, it is reasonable to require camera surveillance of the property, he said.

Scott Henson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Police Accountability Project in Texas, called Hurtt's building-permit proposal "radical and extreme" and said it may violate the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches.

Andy Teas with the Houston Apartment Association said that although some would consider cameras an invasion of privacy, "I think a lot of people would appreciate the thought of extra eyes looking out for them."

Such cameras are costly, Houston Mayor Bill White said, "but on the other hand we spend an awful lot for patrol presence." He called the chief's proposal a "brainstorm" rather than a decision.

The program would require City Council approval.

Isn't it funny how the people who wouldn't really be personally affected by this sort of thing (e.g. Chief Hurtt, Mr. Teas) are the ones who seem to think that it's a pretty good idea? This reminds me a lot of the brouhaha that resulted when police in Oregon fought for and won a decision (which was later overturned) effectively saying that the trash that you put out on the curb to be collected is "abandoned" and therefore public property and as such doesn't require a warrant to be searched and then some of these same crime fighters (most notably the mayor) went downright apeshit when a local newspaper exercised this newfound right to go through their garbage (sucks to be on the receiving end, huh?)

(I can't find the actual articles, they've probably been moved to some pay-per-view area of the newspaper's archive, but I did find a blog with snippets of two of the relevant articles along with a news station's report discussing how the cases were tossed out last March)


I think that trash-does-not-require-a-search-warrant thing is a Supreme Court precedent, actually. As far as I know (IANAL), it hasn't been overturned. (If it has, I'd be curious to hear about it.)
There is in fact a Supreme Court precedent (from cases in 1988 and 1998 iirc), but that doesn't mean that it can't be overturned. IA also NAL, but as I understand it, the way this works is that for the time being Oregon has a slightly different case law from the rest of the US which means that Oregon PDs can't search through trash until the U.S. Supreme Court overrules the Oregon Supreme Court and there is also a possibility (albeit slim) that the U.S. Supreme Court could reverse itself and say that this is a no-no for the entire U.S. alternately the Oregon A.G. could also decide to not pursue the case any further in which case it would be the the effective law in Oregon (not unlike how Mass's Supreme court ruled on gay marriages or why people are concerned that Roe v. Wade could be overturned or changed).

As I understand it PDs are bound by what their respective state courts say and Federal law enforcement tends to be able to circumvent that if federal decisions say differently (so a local PD in oregon can't search through trash but the DEA probably could).

So, yeah, bottom line is I'm sure there'll be plenty more lawyers making plenty more money off of this issue ;)
"I know a lot of people are concerned about Big Brother, but my response to that is, if you are not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?" Chief Harold Hurtt told reporters Wednesday at a regular briefing.



Wonder if he's gonna volunteer his home, the homes of his law-biding deputies to be the first to have cameras installed?