FOOT GUY BACK TO HARASSING HOUSTON’S FEMALE REAL ESTATE AGENTS, WARNS HAR The still-anonymous guy known for calling female real estate agents to get them to talk to him about their feet is back at it, a message on HAR’s blog notes this week. The caller, who among other noted habits often asks for descriptions of nail polish and footwear and “will usually request that [the agent] remove her shoes for improved cell phone reception,” has been on HPD’s radar for a while, but calls from a blocked number (and hangs up abruptly if male agents get on the line). HAR asks that any Realtor who gets a foot-centric call mention it to the police, and notes that “the real estate profession involves interaction with consumers who, in most cases, are complete strangers. It is therefore recommended that when meeting a prospective buyer at a property, conducting an open house or any other meeting between Realtor and consumer alone, you exercise caution and common sense.” [HAR via Houston Chronicle] Photo of HAR Central Office: HAR
HOW A FORMER ENRON TRADER BROUGHT HI-RES AERIAL SURVEILLANCE TO BALTIMORE A report from Monte Reel this week reveals that the Baltimore police department has been running a secret surveillance-by-Cessna program since January, with funding from the Houston-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the philanthropic organization owned by former Enron trader and Centaurus Advisors founder John Arnold and his wife. The couple, which has put funding toward causes ranging from pension reform to the KIPP charter schools to police body camera use studies, contacted Ross McNutt, whose company Persistent Surveillance Systems developed out of his plane-based surveillance projects intended to investigate roadside bombings in mid-2000s Iraq. After the company was featured by Radiolab, McNutt “got an e-mail on behalf of [the Arnolds, who] told McNutt that if he could find a city that would allow the company to fly for several months, they would donate the money to keep the plane in the air. . . . ‘We settled in on Baltimore because it was ready, it was willing, and it was just post-Freddie Gray,’ McNutt says.” The plane, which can grab images over a 30-square-mile area, has been secretly flying over Baltimore for up to 10 hours per day, sending back photos at a rate of 1 shot per second. [Bloomberg] Capture of PSS law enforcement support system: Persistent Surveillance Systems
CITY OF HOUSTON WATER UTILITIES WEBSITE HACKED OVER THE WEEKEND A reader sends a screenshot of the Houston water utilities customer service website as it appeared around 1 AM on Sunday. A source working for the city confirms that the page was briefly redecorated over the weekend; the hack was reported around 5:30 AM that Sunday and resolved later that morning. Prior to discovery of the switchup, all links to city information and services were replaced by a black screen that appeared to spin into place, containing only the graphic shown here, a few online handles taking credit for the takeover, and a short message taunting the site’s administrators. A cached version of the nonfunctional but admittedly edgier homepage was still accessible through a Google search for the page as late as yesterday afternoon. Screen capture: Swamplot inbox
DEEP INSIDE THE BOOMING MARKET FOR HOUSTON HUNKER BUNKERS AND PANIC ROOMS The Houston area is Atlas Survival Shelters’ best market in the U.S., the California company’s owner tells Houstonia‘s Peter Holley. But who buys the sort of underground bunkers outfitted with a mud room, bunk beds, a kitchen, and a separate escape hatch Atlas markets? That’s a secret, because bunker buyers don’t like to talk about what they’re prepping, and often mask their identities from the security-hawking companies themselves. Holley figures out the contours of the survivalist boom, though: “For several years Houston has been in the throes of a frenzy of domicile defense, with many homeowners throughout the region spending five figures or more to turn their suburban abodes into veritable fortresses, employing elaborate and perhaps dangerous methods in the process. Meanwhile, for companies that sell panic rooms, freeze-dried food, weapons, secret passageways, safes, spy equipment, and booby traps, business is booming, especially in and around the Bayou City.”
A bit cheaper than a dedicated 10-ft.-by-40-ft. underground shelter-in-a-pipe is the $20,000 Fort Knox vault room (a version of which is pictured above on a new-construction site), “a Porta-Potty–size walk-in vault that has been in high demand for several years, especially in Houston, according to Safes R Us owner Eric Bristol, whose store is located off the East Freeway,” Holley writes. “He noted that a single room weighs 20,000 pounds and is encased in harder concrete than the type used to construct highways. Walk inside, swing the 1,300-pound door shut, and you might find that feelings of impenetrability are hard to separate from feelings of panic.
‘My daughter can’t be in here more than a few seconds before feeling claustrophobic,’ Bristol said, pulling a lever and sealing the tiny room during a visit to the Safes R Us showroom. ‘But I’ve sold hundreds of these things over the last few years because people are worried about rising crime, and they know that you’d need a tank to break open one of these babies.'” [Houstonia] Photo: Safes R Us
A sharp-eyed reader has spotted what appear to be security cameras popping up on traffic signals at intersections in Midtown over the last couple of weeks. “I assume this is an extension of the downtown camera system that was announced in December,” notes the camera-watcher, who submitted these uh, surveillance photos of the installations at Gray and Bagby (top) and Webster and Bagby in front of the Capital One bank branch (above right). “They appear to be spreading south. Currently I see them on Gray and Webster. The intersections at Bagby got 2 cameras each. Microwave backhaul antennas are visible in the photos.”
Photos: Swamplot inbox
It’s Springtime for Surveillance
A new green-screened construction fence has gone up around the perimeter of the Central Square Plaza building at 2100 Travis St., a reader reports. But the barricades aren’t an indication of impending renovation or demolition work on the long-vacant property. They’re part of an effort to secure the buildings and keep taggers and other would-be occupiers out.
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: IN THE HEIGHTS, GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD PEDESTRIANS “Front yard fences in the Heights are to keep people from walking through your yard. Many streets do not have sidewalks, and some pedestrians don’t understand that the edge of the yard is where you are supposed to walk. We don’t have a front yard fence due to the city easement, and people have come up almost to the front door going through the yard. It is a little unsettling.” [Janice, commenting on One in a Row Behind the Orange Show]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT A GATE GETS YOU “I can tell you why I have a gate. It’s not to keep out someone that REALLY wants to get in (as I can hop over in about 5 seconds if needed). It’s to keep randoms from coming up and knocking on my door.
I work from home a lot and hate when I get a knock on the door during the day (or at night when I’m spending time with my wife) only to go to the door and find some pandhandler ‘fundraising’ for a trip or other nonsense.
And while I don’t subscribe to the fact they’re a big problem, I have heard warnings that people come by, knock on the door for a ‘legit’ reason, and if no one answers they target the property to break in. A gate will keep most of these fishing expeditions out.
So a gate isn’t going to keep someone out that’s committed themselves to getting in, but it’ll be a deterrent to the passers by that want to bother you.
Other reasons? I park my car inside the gated area (yet still outside) so I add some security there. I have furniture on my patio that is much more secure due to the gate. I have a daughter that’ll soon play outside and I like the idea of her not being able to run out to the street. If I had a dog I could let them run around without bothering anyone walking by or running into the street.
There are several legit reasons for a gate. The least of which is a means to make your house impossible to access.” [Cody, commenting on A Preview of a $110K Modest Mod]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT’S IN THAT WONTON? “. . . The gates these days on apartment complexes are an elaborate way to keep the Chinese restaurant menus off the door handles. However, the Chinese restaurants are getting more crafty, employing some Ninja tactics and Trojan Horse ploys. The war goes on.” [commonsense, commenting on Hanover Reaping More Rice Village Property, Garden Gate Shutting]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: INSTALLING THE SAGO PALM HOME SECURITY SYSTEM “But I guarantee that a burglar will bypass your house if you have the palms near windows. They do not want to get stuck anymore than you do.
Granted, it will be more difficult to clean the windows, but I’ll take that any day.” [PYEWACKET2, commenting on Daily Demolition Report: Against Law]
The man seen above crawling back onto the back porch of a North Montrose bungalow with a pillowcase full of electronics and jewelry in hand is 29-year-old Steven Groucho Hicks, the Houston Police Dept. now believes. According to a KHOU report, Hicks was arrested yesterday and charged with burglarizing the home by crawling through its doggie door. An extensive gallery of photos documenting the burglary was posted to Flickr last month, retrieved from a surveillance camera the homeowner had installed after learning of similar episodes in the neighborhood.
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Note: Two updates below.
A North Montrose family found itself enriched Wednesday by a treasure trove of photos showing the burglar who had been stalking their back porch — and impoverished by the iPad, camera, and jewelry the man nabbed from his home, stuffed into a pillowcase. The surveillance pics gathered from the incident near West Gray and Montrose Blvd. are now on display in this Flickr account. They show remarkably clear images of the neighborhood’s new doggie-door burglar — nicknamed “the Ghost” because no one had caught a glimpse of him during similar incident last week — pacing back and forth in the back yard, talking on a mobile phone to an accomplice who was apparently acting as a lookout. The culprit “spent 10 minutes casing the back yard and 4 minutes inside the house,” the victim tells Swamplot.
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