"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.