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Safety: Sheriff’s office buys portable license tag reader

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Police department cameras that will read the license number of vehicles entering and leaving the town of Pawleys Island won’t be in place until the end of summer, but the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office plans to have a portable tag reader in operation by the end of July.

“There are going to be some logistical issues we have to work through as far as electricity and Internet access,” Pawleys Island Police Chief Mike Fanning said.

The cameras would be mounted on utility poles on the South Causeway. However the town is at work on a project that will eliminate overhead utility lines. There are no utility poles on the North Causeway. Part of the proposed project to bury utility lines includes installing power lines along the North Causeway to create a loop in the supply system.

Town Council approved $35,000 last month to install the license plate cameras.

The sheriff’s office has spent more than a year researching the cameras, said Lt. T.L. Staub, who is managing the project. “We’re so big, to pick one location …,” Staub said with a shrug. “We’re getting more flexibility.”

It will use a federal grant passed through by the state to buy the $25,000 device.

The sheriff’s office has used portable tag readers from the State Law Enforcement Division for special events such as bike weeks. That gave patrol deputies and investigators the chance to train on the equipment, Staub said.

The cameras scan the license numbers and compare them to data maintained in the National Crime Information Center, which is maintained by the FBI. If the number is linked to a stolen car or an outstanding warrant, an alert is sent. Deputies would also get an image of the tag to determine if the number and the state match the wanted vehicle.

The city of Georgetown has two fixed tag readers and one that can be mounted in a patrol car. If the camera spots a wanted tag on a vehicle going into the city on Highway 17 from the Waccamaw Neck it will usually send an alert by the time the vehicle reaches the Highway 701 intersection. “It’s quick,” Staub said.

The sheriff’s office and Pawleys Island Police also plan to use the data recorded by the cameras to help solve crimes. Both agencies says they will help solve the break-ins at vacant beach houses that occur during the winter.

For the sheriff’s office, that means deploying the tag reader at Garden City and the Litchfield Beaches. “In rural areas, criminals need a vehicle,” Staub said. The camera “is a tool to help enhance our ability to locate these types.”

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