01/27/12 12:17pm

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.


10/20/11 1:26pm

When you use the city’s brand-new pay-by-phone parking setup to pay for a metered space — introduced by the mayor this morning — what are you giving up? Well, an extra 35 cents to the system’s vendor, Parkmobile, beyond the parking fee. Plus you’re telling city officials — and parking enforcement officers — where your car is parked, its license plate number, and a good way to reach you. But city Admin & Regulatory Affairs spokesperson Chris Newport tells Swamplot that’s all: “No credit card or email information will be accessed. We retain the plate/phone number parking transaction history to allow us to verify someone paid for parking in the event of a complaint regarding a citation that may have been issued in error.”

What if you’ve got a few outstanding tickets?


10/18/11 4:07pm

STRIP MALL LIFE Late last month undercover detectives arrested 3 women working at the Touch of Class Spa in the strip center at 8201 Broadway in Pearland on prostitution charges; 2 male customers found on site during the sting operation were questioned and released. Last week, a fourth woman, suspected of running the operation, was also arrested. After an intensive investigation that included poring over the massage parlor’s in-house video surveillance system, police officials concluded that the spa workers were not being held against their will: “However, surveillance video revealed the women actually lived and worked at the spa 24 hours-a-day, using their massage tables as make-shift beds.” [Pearland Journal; Pearland Today] Photo: Pearland Journal

08/17/11 1:58pm

HIGH SECURITY IN BELLAIRE Yvonne Stern’s home on S. 3rd St. in Bellaire is now equipped with iron gates, floodlights, surveillance cameras, and bulletproof glass; there’s also an armored SUV currently being prepared for her use. Earlier, she had hired off-duty Houston police officers to live in the house around the clock. Still, earlier this week Stern told the jury deciding the fate of a man hired to kill her that she and her 2 children do not feel safe in the home; she would like to move but can’t. Nhut Nguyen was sentenced this morning to 45 years in prison for shooting at Stern and her son through the home’s front door on April 15th. No one was injured in that incident, but a different assailant shot Stern in the stomach a month later as she sat in her car in the parking garage of the Meritage Apartments at the corner of North Braeswood and Meyer Park Dr. — where Stern and her family were staying while their home was being retrofitted with all those security measures. Now back living with her in that home, which she described to the court as “Fort Knox”: her husband, attorney Jeffrey Stern — who along with his former employee and mistress, Michelle Gaiser, is facing trial for soliciting several would-be hit men to kill his wife. Despite prosecutors’ claims, Yvonne Stern says she believes her husband had nothing to do with the murder plots. [Houston Chronicle; more details]

08/01/11 8:11am

Only a few days after it sold, the 1961 Tanglewood home and bomb shelter on Brown Saddle St. featured on Swamplot back in January has been put back on the market. Only this time, the listing doesn’t mention the shelter or the abandoned pipeline slicing through a portion of the property — or really anything about the building itself. No more interior pics, either. The low-slung modern structure is now tagged as “not liveable” and won’t be shown — though the agent does fess up to having a key. The asking price? Only $550K more than what the property sold for earlier in the week, when the home and its interior were touted as sales features. At 38,263 sq. ft. (that’s actually been marked down a few thousand sq. ft. from the earlier sale), the lot is advertised as the biggest in Tanglewood.


07/28/11 4:47pm

Fox26’s Isiah Carey reports that the Department of Housing and Urban Development will be investigating a Royal Oaks resident’s complaints earlier this week — that security guards at the west-side neighborhood’s front gate had been refusing entry to visitors who were black. David Williams, who’s been renting a 3-bedroom home on Stuart Manor in the northern reaches of Royal Oaks, says he saw a note in the gatehouse informing security guards that “David Williams . . . is not allowed to have any company,” and that a guard told him “We personally don’t have a problem with you, but we’ll lose our jobs [if we let your friends in].” Williams also says that a group of people in a golf cart banged on his garage door on Memorial Day, used racial epithets, and said “You’re not going to move into our neighborhood.” Williams’s African-American guests have been getting through more recently, but community officials at Royal Oaks still have not returned Carey’s phone calls.

Photo: Fox26

06/15/11 4:26pm

It’s just about summertime, and all you fans of fresh West University produce know what that means: Yes, it’s well past time to set up those security cameras to monitor your vulnerable front-yard fruits. “The camera and fruit-thief deterrent signs have returned,” notes the reader who sent in these photos of this ripe “either peach or nectarine” tree on Tangley, west of Buffalo Speedway. But the security effort actually appears to be a bit more subdued than last year. The bilingual warning signage featured on the tree and a few of its neighbors last season has been replaced with a smaller and simpler handwritten “Camera” warning.

Swamplot’s West U fruit scout says there’s another sign on the other side of the tree “that says something like ‘Don’t even think about it.’” No photo of that? Explains the source: “I was in a hurry and, of course, wanting to stay out of the camera’s wily view.”

Photos: Swamplot inbox

01/07/11 11:01am

What’s the safety of your family worth, anyway? Is $2,052,218 really too high a price to pay for the security of knowing that when the revolution/apocalypse/nuclear winter/plague of locusts/hurricane/historic designation comes, your loved ones could be comfortably ensconced in their very own bomb shelter? And look! A trained school of security fish stand guard by the shelter’s entrance — in their very own BB-proof booth. Plus, right next door, there’s a $5 million home!


11/16/10 3:24pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: CRIME BLOCK “Does having a wall at a dead end street make it more secure? In some ways, criminals may be safer where no one can see them during the day, or night. The wall may act as a buffer for thieves instead of hindering their action. There are many stories in the neighborhood where high walls and fences encouraged thieves. Typically, pedestrian areas seem to be more safe since there is always someone watching. So I’m not sure about the safety for those residents on the dead end street with just a wall.” [Montrose Slums, commenting on Open and Shut: The Montrose H-E-B’s Pedestrian Gates]

09/28/10 10:54am

The new owner of the 2 “infamous” Skylane apartment complexes on West Alabama is already at work making changes. Montrose apartment investor and real-estate agent Cody Lutsch picked up the 2 foreclosed and red-tagged properties from Enterprise Bank earlier this month. For the 25-unit building at 502 West Alabama (on the corner of Garrott), Lutsch has plans to replace the window units with small ductless split A/C systems, fix some structural issues, switch to monthly instead of weekly rentals, and change the name. Also: He’d like to reduce the crime associated with the property, by adding gates, lights, security cameras, larger trash bins, and maintaining the landscaping.

Lutsch has fewer changes planned for the 32-unit Skylane across the street from Spur 527 at 219 West Alabama (above): He says he’s already begun addressing criminal and safety issues at the property, but otherwise plans to let it run “as it’s been running,” as a pay-by-the-week complex. Lutsch says he hadn’t planned to buy that property originally, but decided the property’s land size, rental income, and location might make it attractive to other investors later on.


06/14/10 10:24am

Those of you who feared the appearance in Swamplot comments of a second warning sign might be the signal of an escalating fruit-tree security threat in West U need not be alarmed: It’s apparently nothing new. The reader who first sent in a photo of the best-protected fruit tree in town — on Tangley Rd. west of Buffalo Speedway — claims not to have even noticed that the second sign a few steps away was any different from the first. And yet it is! The uh, somewhat enhanced wording on the second sign is en Español.


06/09/10 2:36pm

And here we have perhaps the best-monitored fig tree on Tangley, west of Buffalo Speedway in West University. Practicing for the thorough investigation that is sure to follow, the reader who sent us the tip claims to have been “in the middle of a public street when I took the photo.” Fig poachers, you have been warned! Says our reader:

who knew these figs were so valuable they’re worth the sign, netting, security camera, and wiring installed to protect them?

Oh, but have you ever tasted a West U fig?

Late Update: The fig tree has been outed by several commenters. C’mon — fess up! You’re really a peach, aren’t you?

Photo: Swamplot inbox

03/12/10 12:32pm

From a hotel press release:

Hilton Americas-Houston is the first hotel to utilize 3VR [Security, Inc.]’s facial recognition, license plate recognition and advanced motion analytics to provide the ultimate in guest security. In the hotel security business since 1990, John Alan Moore, director of security and life safety for Hilton Americas-Houston says “I’ve never seen anything that is able to do the things this technology does; it’s light-years ahead of the system we previously used.” . . .

Another use for the system that Hilton Americas-Houston has found useful is recognizing repeat customers. According to Moore, “We will be able to tie in with front office systems to flag our Gold Card members in order to be able to blow them away with service. This is another tool to be used to keep Hilton as the leader in the industry.” With 90% accuracy, the system registers few false positives, even picking up good facial info on cameras not specifically designated as facial-recognition. On a humorous note, the system is so sensitive that it has recognized faces that were not actually guests; they were photos of the t-shirts of guests. Moore said “President Obama made an appearance on our skywalk, on a guest’s clothing. That’s how bad the system wants to recognize a face.”

Photo: Urban Jungle Survivalist

02/26/10 10:35am

CUTTING SCHOOLS If our kids don’t see the spikes, how will they get the message that we want them to stay in school? “On Thursday, fencing contractors clipped the last strand of barbed wire at Scott Elementary School, wrapping up a three-month project to rid 68 schools of nearly 100,000 feet of the sharp stuff. Some parents praised the move to give campuses more curb appeal, while others said they feared criminals would be more tempted to break in without the barbed wire. . . . The speedy removal of the barbed wire across HISD cost nearly $147,000. Many of the campuses will get entirely new fencing in the next 18 months thanks to the 2007 voter-approved bond, said Dick Lindsay, the district’s chief business officer. Black vinyl fencing will replace the old, rusted chain-link around the campuses, while more expensive wrought-iron — traditionally found at schools in wealthier neighborhoods — will grace the front of the buildings.” [Houston Chronicle]

11/06/09 5:03pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: STAYING SAFE IN MIDTOWN, BACK IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS “Last I lived inside the loop was 17 years ago in Midtown…before it was chic. I lived behind an 8 foot chainlink fence topped with razor wire. My friends called it “the compound” but I never ever had a problem.” [Tex, commenting on The Front Porch Gang]