Cameras on Texas Border Working; System Not on Web Yet

Despite plans to put cameras online for public monitoring, infrastructure not quite ready


More than three months after announcing his plan to let anyone with Internet access report crime along the Texas-Mexico border by watching feeds from surveillance cameras, Gov. Rick Perry's virtual border watch program is still not online.

Ensuring that the cameras and other infrastructure provide the best signals and coverage caused delays, but the program is moving forward, Texas Homeland Security director Steve McCraw said Tuesday.

On June 1, Perry announced that he would use $5 million in state money to place hundreds of cameras in vast stretches of remote, criminal hotspots along the border and broadcast the images live on the Internet. Law enforcement agencies would monitor the camera feeds.

Perry likened the effort to a neighborhood watch program and said he hoped the images would be online in about a month. His office later extended that timetable another two months.

"We have to make sure these things are secure and that they can handle the tremendous amount of hits we know we'll have through the servers. You're going to get millions of people on it," Perry's campaign spokesman Robert Black said Monday.

"It's better to be good than early," McCraw said. "Anybody can put up a camera, but can it be supported and sustained, and does it work and does it meet technical requirements."

He said one of the stickiest challenges was how to provide the best signals in rural and open range areas.

McCraw said 15 surveillance cameras are operating, but the images are available only to law enforcement and landowners where cameras are located. He said the state is wrapping up a free demonstration period and could request proposals from technology companies as soon as this week.

When the cameras go online will depend on the public bidding process, McCraw said, adding that demonstrations showed that the state may need four providers to meet different technological and infrastructure needs.

The plan to create a virtual border watch program generated much reaction.

In June, Mike Vickers, a rancher in Brooks County in South Texas, said cameras could be effective in "real hot pathways" on private ranchlands, which human and drug smugglers use to skirt immigration checkpoints.

Vickers said hundreds of illegal immigrants cross his property every day.

But Vickers also questioned whether smugglers would be able to locate the cameras, thereby avoiding detection.

McCraw said camera locations and angles can be concealed. He stressed that the state is working with law enforcement agencies and that the border watch program will not compromise officer safety or operations.

Some civil rights groups have been highly critical of the virtual border watch, saying it will instill fear in border communities, and could lead to fraudulent crime reports and racial profiling.

McCraw said the cameras had already aided in the recovery of a stolen pickup.

He said officers would be able to view streaming images on mobile devices while on foot or in their cars.

It's likely that some cameras will be mobile so that they can be used in areas where they are needed, McCraw said.