Austin Police Department to install two security cameras on Fourth Street

Sarah White

The Austin Police Department plans to place two new security cameras downtown, increasing the number of cameras in the area to 29, said Lt. Patrick Cochran.

The two cameras will be placed on Fourth Street near the road’s intersection with Sabine Street and Trinity Street, Cochran said. APD officials have been monitoring the cameras since they were first put up in September and all gathered film is stored.

“The program is called HALO, which stands for High Activity Location Observation and it is based off of the Denver system,” Cochran said. “Basically, it is a surveillance camera system. It is overt, not covert, which means that all of the cameras are in the open and visible to citizens.”

Cochran said the two new cameras are part of an initiative to give APD representatives access to more surveillance cameras.

“The city has cameras at almost every intersection, and we are looking at bringing them into our system,” Cochran said.

He said HALO was funded in part by a Justice Assistance Grant from the federal government and by a $250,000 contribution from the Downtown Austin Alliance.

“The only part of HALO’s expenses which comes from APD’s budget is staffing,” Cochran said. “We have nine officers on staff responsible for monitoring the cameras 24/7.”

Cochran said funding HALO costs APD less than $900,000 per year.

Bill Brice, director for security and maintenance of the Downtown Austin Alliance, said the original Justice Assistance Grant would only allow APD representatives to place three surveillance cameras downtown. He said the extra funds contributed by the alliance allowed department officials to erect 24 additional cameras.

“We think these cameras are especially important because they will leverage APD’s resources and make officers more efficient,” Brice said.

Representatives of the alliance began researching the benefits of placing cameras downtown in August of 2007, he said.

American studies senior Taylor Metting said she disagrees with the principle behind the security cameras.

“Instead of being out to protect us, it creates this mentality that we are all threats and need to be monitored all the time,” Metting said.

She said she thinks putting more surveillance cameras downtown seems like a good idea on paper but will not be effective and will only result in a breach of privacy.

“I do not feel safe downtown considering I’ve had two friends assaulted by APD and I know over 10 people arrested downtown for filming cops,” Taylor said. “The cops can watch us but we can’t watch them. It’s a form of doublethink.”