Surveillance cameras keeping eye on Pawleys Island, Surfside Beach

akelley@thesunnews.comOctober 19, 2013 

— The towns of Surfside Beach and Pawleys Island have installed surveillance cameras in locations where officials believe they could help improve safety and assist police investigations.

The installations put the beach communities among others along the Grand Strand that are revving up security efforts. Myrtle Beach has had cameras, primarily on Ocean Boulevard, for several years.

Myrtle Beach police Capt. David Knipes said they have been a useful tool.

“They have helped us with certain investigations over the course of years,” he said.

In Surfside Beach, officers will be able to access the cameras in their patrol car when near wireless hotspots. Town Council earlier this year approved the purchase of five cameras through accommodations tax funds in Surfside Beach. They were installed last week and the town’s officers will soon have access to them at the precinct and from their patrol cars.

The cameras, which cost a total of $18,875, have been installed at the Surfside Beach Pier parking lot, on top of the pier, beach access parking lots at Fourth Avenue South and Third Avenue North and one in the business district on Surfside Drive. Police Chief Rodney Keziah said the cameras will be monitored at the Surfside Beach dispatch center, and each have pan, zoom and tilt capabilities. The video will be automatically recorded and stored for a minium of 30 days.

The town of Pawleys Island started using a new camera system in late September, said Police Chief Mike Fanning. So far, they have had an average of two alerts per day. The purchase cost about $35,000.

A camera each is installed at the North and South causeways and they take pictures of the rear of every vehicle that drives onto the island and reads its license plate. The cameras in Pawleys Island do not take photos of the drivers.

Fanning said the photographs of tags are run through State Law Enforcement Division records and the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.

“It feeds through SLED databases for any wanted cars, stolen car cars, Amber Alerts, sex offenders,” Fanning said. “Also, the S.C. DMV gives us any alerts about whether the vehicle may be suspended.”

It’s not a perfect system, Fanning said, and some of the alerts sent to police have been in error with Gs reading as 6s, or Bs reading as 8s.

Fanning said Thursday the camera had not yet been used for crime solving, but he said he expects that will change this winter.

“During the offseason it’s going to be very important because of the burglaries,” he said. “With limited access to the island, if a vehicle license is read by the camera we have the ability to at least narrow down the [suspects] with the tag number and hopefully the make and model of the car.”

Fanning said burglaries tend to tick up in the winter months because many rental properties are unoccupied. Businesses in Surfside Beach that purchase cameras and contract with the same company the town is using, could opt to give the police department access to video footage, Keziah said. That doesn’t mean police will monitor the cameras, he said, but instead would allow police easier access to the recordings in the event of a crime.

Councilwoman Beth Kohlmann, a former officer with the New York Police Department, supported the cameras from Keziah’s first pitch.

“They’re highly successful crime-fighting tools,” she said. “With your ability to see things live, it’ a huge safety thing for responding police officers. I know people say they don’t want Big Brother watching, but [cameras] solve crimes.”

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