2014 News for Pawleys Island, Litchfield and Murrells Inlet
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Litchfield Beaches: POA still reviewing license plate cameras

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association is still considering installing license plate cameras as a deterrent to off-season house break-ins, but didn’t have enough information to present to members at its annual meeting over the weekend.

Cameras were installed by the town of Pawleys Island last year to read license numbers of cars crossing the two causeways to the island after a series of winter break-ins. Last month, camera data was used by police to identify a registered sex offender who had exposed himself to a child cycling on the island.

There are three entrances to North Litchfield and Litchfield Beach and the association believes the cameras would help identify suspects in break-ins. More than two dozen were reported in the first three months of this year. “That’s definitely something I want to pursue,” said John Thomas, the association president. The Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office says it will monitor the cameras, which would be linked to national crime databases and provide alerts for tag numbers linked to outstanding warrants.

Thomas said the association still needs to get details on the cost of the cameras. Pawleys Island budgeted $35,000 for its cameras.

Brandon Stokes, an investigator with the sheriff’s office, told the property owners association that deputies used a portable license plate reader in the area this winter. “If we put it at Litchfield Beach, they’ll hit North Litchfield,” he said.

A Neighborhood Watch, something else the property owners association is considering, would also help, Stokes said. After break-ins in January, deputies did foot patrols in the area. “From 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. we were just out walking,” he said. They wore SWAT team gear. But if any residents noticed, they weren’t concerned.

“We never got a single phone call,” Stokes said. “That was a little disturbing.”

Two things that owners can do to help catch the thieves are recording the serial numbers to their property – most often televisions – and scheduling regular checks of their houses.

“Serial numbers are very important,” Stokes said. “That’s how we check pawn shops.” He also recommended photographing valuables.

Pinning down the time of a break-in at a vacation home is difficult. “That’s one of the biggest things we go through,” Stokes said. The portable license plate camera recorded 200 vehicles a day at Litchfield Beach, he said. Without knowing the time of a break-in it would be too time consuming to check the data for suspects, Stokes said.

For people with alarm systems, Stokes said it’s important that they be set up to call the sheriff’s office first. “It might be a hassle for patrol, but it would help,” he said.

POA members also raised concerns about golf carts, a perennial topic. But Stokes said a change in state law that expanded the range that golf carts can operate from the owner’s home left out any penalties for violations.

A survey by the association last year found that 79 percent of members think that law enforcement in the area is adequate. “You’ve done a good job of slowing down and ticketing the speeders,” one owner told Stokes, but she added that she often sees people who appear to be drunk driving off from beach accesses during the summer.

Stokes suggested she get the license number and call the sheriff’s office when that happens.

In other business, Thomas told members that he was told there is no plan to restrict access to a boat ramp at Litchfield Beach where wooden posts and fencing were recently installed. The ramp is owned by the Litchfield Beach Homeowners Association, created in 2003 to rebuild the bridge over Sportsman Canal. The homeowners group later bought the boat landing on the canal from the Litchfield Co.

Thomas said he talked with Ed Carter, a former resident who started the homeowners group, and Bob Moran, attorney for the group. Carter said the posts will have signs asking for donations to help maintain the ramp and bridge. Moran said there are no plans to close the ramp.

After members expressed concern about the future of the boat ramp, Thomas agreed to have the property owners association’s attorney review the issue.

The annual meeting is likely to be the last for Thomas as president. He is running for Georgetown County Council and is unopposed in District 1. The incumbent, Jerry Oakley, isn’t running for a fourth term and he convinced Thomas to run.

Oakley apologized to the association members for taking their president. “He’s going to do a really good job,” Oakley said.

Ladd Dezendorf is in line to take over as president when Thomas steps down, which should be in January before he is sworn in as a council member.

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