HOUSTON - Government purchasing records show federal law enforcement agencies are buying video recording and photography equipment to be used in streetlights.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials confirm equipment purchases were made from Houston-based contractor Cowboy Streetlight Concealments, LLC. for use in Homeland Security Investigations Houston and San Antonio regional offices.
The Drug Enforcement Agency purchased thousands of dollars in equipment from Cowboy Streetlight Concealments since July as well.
"The targeted use of surveillance equipment used during investigations into drug trafficking, human smuggling, human trafficking and other illicit activities is consistent with other federal law-enforcement agencies," ICE officials wrote in an emailed statement to KHOU 11.
KHOU 11 called Cowboy Streetlight Concealments and spoke with owner Christie Crawford who said she had "no comment" on the government contract and hung up the phone.
The company has been paid a total of more than $50,000 by the DEA and ICE since July 2018.
Hidden cameras used for video surveillance is not something new in the Houston area. Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen says his office has been at the forefront of the technology and currently has 125 active cameras installed in locations under investigation throughout the county.
“We’re going to use whatever means legally to effectuate the mission that we’re trying to do,” Constable Rosen said. “They are the most invaluable tools that we can use. It’s a necessary in today’s law enforcement world.”
The Precinct One Constable’s Office estimates its video surveillance equipment amounts to more than $500,000. One of its drones cost around $40,000 alone.
Constable Rosen says deputies work in conjunction with CenterPoint Energy to install the cameras in streetlights throughout Harris County.
Dispatchers watch a wall of monitors broadcasting live feeds from the hidden cameras. They can then dispatch an officer to the location when they observe a crime.
“Whatever you expose to the public, you don’t have an expectation of privacy,” said South Texas College of Law professor Geoffrey Corn. “So if a police officer can stand on the corner and record the license plate numbers of cars that drive by, then the police can use a piece of technology to do the same thing, neither of which would qualify as a search under the definition of the Fourth Amendment.”