THE CASE AGAINST THE HOUSTON FORENSIC SCIENCE CENTER’S SHARED OFFICE SETUP
Last month, leaders of the Center told Houston City Council their 200-plus person staff just isn’t fitting in at HPD’s downtown offices in 1200 Travis, pictured above. For one thing: “Technicians test guns by firing live ammunition on the 24th floor,” which neighbors offices above and below, reports the Chronicle‘s Zach Despart. They also “transport evidence upstairs in public elevators.” Although “shortcomings in the Houston Police Department’s own crime lab” were what prompted the city to found the Center as an independent body in 2014, the agencies’ ongoing closeness tends to raise eyebrows: “You walk into HPD’s headquarters on the way to the laboratory,” says Center president Peter Stout. The good news: their proximity is only temporary. Earlier this month, City Council approved a new 30-year lease for the Center at 500 Jefferson — a privately-owned building 9 blocks away — where it’ll get 83,000 sq.-ft. for “toxicology, DNA testing, fingerprint analysis and narcotics storage,” as well as a 25-ft. firing range in the basement, reports Jasper Scherer. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of 1200 Travis St.: WhisperToMe
I-45 STRIP CLUB SAYS HPD’S 3-FT. DEAL WITH COMPETITORS IS DRIVING IT OUT OF BUSINESS
A new lawsuit filed by Fantasy Plaza — just south of North Bank Rd. at 8503 N. Fwy. — accuses the city and other strip clubs of working together on what Fantasy claims “amounts to a commercial bribery scheme.” Five years ago, 16 of Fantasy Plaza’s competitors — some of which had been accused of facilitating human trafficking — settled a series of lawsuits with the city. As part of the settlement, the clubs agreed to get rid of their “VIP rooms” and also “to donate annually to a fund that maintains a Houston Police Department unit dedicated to investigating human trafficking,” writes the Chronicle’s Francisca Ortega. The clubs now pool together at least $1 million each year for the fund. In return, HPD agreed not to enforce a law that prohibited topless dancers from coming within 3 ft. of customers — but only for the 16 clubs making payments. Fantasy Plaza wasn’t one of them. Now, according to the club’s suit: “Because Fantasy Plaza must abide by city law, Fantasy Plaza cannot compete for customers in the same manner as the Clubs. This has caused-and will continue to cause, Fantasy Plaza to lose business and ultimately fail.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Fantasy Plaza
A stolen Dodge Durango was the first car pulled out of Brays Bayou earlier this month as Harris County Flood Control and friends resumed work on removing some of the 100-plus sunken vehicles previously discovered gently rusting below the surface of a few of Houston’s major waterways. (The Nissan Maxima above was next in line.) Last year’s test run of the removal setup snagged a total of 20 cars out of Brays and Sims bayous; the contracts signed earlier this year for a new round of vehicle fishing budget for a catch of around 65 vehicles from the 2 bayous, depending on size and how much of a fight each one puts up. (Texas Equusearch did note back in its 2011 survey that at least one big rig is lurking somewhere in the watery depths, and some of the cars are more filled with mud and debris than others.)
The county says the new car count was up to 13 by the time work crews paused last week to let Cindy pass; a county worker also snapped photos showing off some of the haul, which has so far included a range of more and less easily identifiable makes and models including a Nissan Frontier, a Jaguar, a Ford Mustang, a Ford Bronco, an Eagle Talon, and others:
CONTINUE READING THIS STORY
BOXES OF EVIDENCE TAKE COLD SHOWER IN HPD PROPERTY ROOM FREEZER The still-under-investigation malfunction of an evidence freezer fire sprinkler at the HPD Property Room on Washington Ave. yesterday may have compromised evidence in as many as 4,200 cases, a Harris County district attorney’s office rep tells KHOU. Acting police chief Martha Montalvo says that some the moistened cardboard boxes and envelopes contained DNA evidence (though seemingly none related to sexual assault cases); she also adds that most of the individual samples are bagged in a few layers of sealed plastic. Mayor Turner announced that HPD’s forensic folks will help repackage the dampened evidence and see whether any of it has been damaged or compromised; reps from the DA’s office say they will be in touch with the lawyers of anyone whose case might be impacted by the samples in question. [KHOU] Photo of HPD Property Room at 1202 Washington Ave.: City of Houston
Is there a connection between where you live and your likelihood of getting arrested for weed in Houston? A map from January Advisor’s (and Sketch City‘s) Jeff Reichman adds a few data points to that conversation this afternoon, though he doesn’t appear to push any specific conclusions in his how, what, and why writeup. Reichman gathered data on the folks that Harris County’s public jail records system says were arrested over the first half of this year for minor marijuana possession offenses (instead of just being given a citation for the same offense). The red dots on the interactive map show the arrestees’ home addresses (scootched around a bit to somewhere within the dot’s 300-meter radius, for the sake of anonymity).
The other data layer (in shades of blue) shows census blocks with median income over $80,000 (marking roughly the start of what the US census measures as the top quarter of household earnings in the US, Reichman notes). The blue areas, which get darker as income gets higher, appear relatively arrest-free, though a 2012 study from the NIH suggest that more frequent weed use may be linked to higher socioeconomic status.
Map: Jeff Reichman
Mapping the Green
NEED SOME HELP WITH THOSE 268,942 MAPPED HOUSTON PARKING TICKETS? Amateur parking violation scrutinizer Jordan Poles has another new tool for those interested in the where- and when-abouts of parking citations in Houston. Each ticket from the same data set used in Poles’s earlier heat maps is now mapped individually (though thick clusters condense to single group markers at most zoom levels, since there are hundreds of thousands of tickets in the 2014-2016 dataset he uses). So far, the page lets users filter the tickets by time of day (sliders allow any hour-to-hour subdivision of a midnight-to-midnight window) and day of week (running Monday-through-Sunday); Poles plans to keep upgrading the site and to add new analytical features and datasets. [Previously on Swamplot] Image: HOU Interactive Parking Ticket Map
If you are the owner of the bottom half of a red Ford Ranger left in Brays Bayou near Wayside Dr. some time in the last 20 years, your vehicle may be waiting for you in HPD’s impound lot. The pilot program intended to test out a procedure for fishing out the 127-or-so vehicles mapped beneath the surface of a few of Houston’s waterways reeled in its 20th and final car over the weekend before the $49,500 project grant ran out.
The removals started near the Wayside bridge over Brays Bayou in late January, then moved upstream of the crossing of Lidstone St. on the 29th; last Friday, operations jumped down to Sims Bayou to score a few final sets of wheels. Harris County Flood Control District, which oversaw the fishing trips, tweeted that project executives will now meet to discuss future removal plans and compare notes on the process, which involved divers from Saltwater Salvage submerging to attach giant yellow floaties to the sunken vehicles:
CONTINUE READING THIS STORY
Stirring Up Mud in Gulfgate
A 1987 Buick Regal was pulled from Brays Bayou yesterday, as a $49,500 pilot program to remove about 127 vehicles thought to be sunk along the bottom of several of Houston’s major bayous revved up. Divers working at the crossing of S. Wayside Dr. attached bright yellow floaties to the sedan to help it swim to the surface before it was lifted onto the shore, where police identified it as reported stolen in 1998. Mike Talbott of the Harris County Flood Control District expects that crews will be able to remove some 20 to 25 cars before the money runs out.
The Buick is one of the drowned cars mapped by Texas Equusearch in 2011, as the nonprofit used a sonar-equipped boat to look for a missing woman in a Black Dodge Avenger (later found in a retention pond off Old Galveston Rd.). Assistant Chief Mark Curran of HPD told ABC 13 that most of the cars at the bottom of Brays and Sims Bayous were probably joyridden and then dumped. Stolen vehicles have been found in other Houston-area water bodies, including that 1985 Fiero uncovered in 2011 during the extended drought which brought down Lake Houston water levels.
Floating yellow containment booms spanned the waterway downstream of yesterday morning’s operation to catch any oil or gasoline that might leak from the vehicles during the removal process:
CONTINUE READING THIS STORY
Nice Catch Under Wayside Dr.