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Litchfield Beach: Break-ins prompt POA to consider cameras

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Property owners in the Litchfield Beaches are looking at traffic cameras as a response to a string of break-ins this winter. “This is something LBPOA may be willing to put a good deal of money into,” said John Thomas, president of the Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association.

Odile Postic, one of the association board members, said she counted 24 newspaper accounts of break-ins at Litchfield Beach and North Litchfield during January and February. Her home was among them, but most were vacation homes. “It seems to be the same gang,” she said she was told by the sheriff’s office.

Most of the break-ins led to the theft of televisions.

The association board agreed this week to look at cameras like those installed by the town of Pawleys Island last year. The town’s cameras are linked to the State Law Enforcement Division database. They read license numbers. While police are notified if there are warrants or violations tied to those numbers, officers also use the data to identify vehicles on the island when break-ins are reported.

In January 2013, there were 13 break-ins on the island. In January and February this year, there was only one attempted break-in reported on the island. Tools were stolen from a contractors’s shed and it was considered an “inside job,” Police Chief Michael Fanning said.

“We’ve been fortunate not to be affected” by the Litchfield break-ins, he said.

Mayor Bill Otis thinks the town’s cameras, mounted at the North and South Causeways, and the publicity they generated are responsible. “I hope so,” Fanning said, but he also noted that officers maintain round-the-clock patrols.

“We ought to consider cameras,” said Richard Heusel, a North Litchfield resident who serves on the POA board.

The town budgeted $35,000 for the cameras. Litchfield Beach has a single entrance from Highway 17. North Litchfield has two.

“If we put a camera up there, the issue would be the day-to-day operation of it,” Thomas said.

The Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office would monitor the camera data, said Neil Johnson, a lieutenant in the uniform patrol division.

“We would work with them and do whatever needs to be done to tie it in with our dispatch system,” Johnson said. “It would be a good tool for us.”

Jay Preslar, a Litchfield Beach resident, suggested the association sponsor a Neighborhood Watch program that would include “having an extra car driving around.” The sheriff’s office sponsors the programs to encourage security and awareness, but it only recommends that residents report anything that seems suspicious.

“There are all sorts of things that discourage break-ins,” Nancy McEachren, a Litchfield Retreat resident, said. Rhea Carter, a North Litchfield resident, suggested that a Neighborhood Watch meeting with the sheriff’s office could follow the POA’s annual meeting in May. She also recalled that in the past the association has hired off-duty deputies to patrol the area, such as during the first week schools are on summer vacation.

“A Neighborhood Watch is what I would look into,” Preslar said. “I suspect the cost would be minimal.”

Heusel suggested the association present all the options to the property owners at the annual meeting and develop a plan based on their input. It can be implemented over the winter, he said, and “we’ll be ready when the scourge is on.”

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