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Pawleys Island: Town will test surveillance cameras at beach access

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Surveillance cameras keep watch over one of the busiest beach accesses on Pawleys Island. The cameras themselves will be watched closely, too.

“We might decide this is not the camera system for us,” Police Chief Mike Fanning said.

The town installed license plate cameras on the two roads leading on and off the island last year. They were a response to a series of winter break-ins at vacant rental houses. Camera data led police to arrest three teens last month in connection with a car theft and 20 car break-ins. Earlier this year, the data provided a clue to the identity of a Conway man who was charged with exposing himself to a child cycling on the island.

Town Council Member Sarah Zimmerman proposed surveillance cameras for the island’s south end beach access, the largest free beach access in Georgetown County. The council this week decided on a test at the First Street access on the island’s north end, since it will only require one set of cameras.

Four cameras will be mounted on a pole at the northeast corner of First Street and Atlantic Avenue, providing views of the beach access and adjacent streets. Police will monitor the cameras, which will also record images.

“I’ve got some concern about the monitoring,” Mayor Bill Otis said. “I’m not sure it’s worth the time of the officers.”

But he agreed to a test that uses all the system’s capabilities and then assess their benefits. Fanning suggested installing the cameras by April 1. Zimmerman said they should go up sooner.

“We’re talking about January,” Otis said, the start of the new fiscal year.

“I’m talking about now,” Zimmerman said.

The first camera system is free. But the town will have to pay $950 to get power to the cameras and another $1,000 a year for electricity and Internet service. Any additional cameras will cost $1,000 for each location.

The same firm, Statewide Security, installed cameras for the city of Georgetown, Fanning said. The system allows officers to watch the video on their phones or laptop computers in patrol cars. An officer on the island’s south end who gets a call to the north end would be able to assess the situation based on the images. “It wouldn’t be feasible to do live monitoring all the time,” he said.

Zimmerman sees the cameras as a deterrent. She was among the victims of last month’s break-ins. Like the others, she left her car unlocked. There was nothing of value inside, but she didn’t count on the thieves taking keys to her rental properties. Although the keys were recovered, the potential cost of changing dozens of locks got her attention, she said.

Fanning said all the suspects, ages 16 to 18, were from the Socastee area. Along with entering unlocked cars, they are accused of stealing a car belonging to a Georgia woman. It had jewelry valued between $10,000 and $30,000 in the trunk. Some was recovered from pawn shops in Horry County, Fanning said.

The license plate cameras recorded the stolen car leaving the island at 3:30 a.m. The car that was right behind it was traced to the suspects, Fanning said.

Although they currently live in Horry County, he said one had lived in Allston Plantation and another had family in the Pawleys Island area. He isn’t sure if they were aware of the license plate cameras. “I’m suspecting they weren’t,” Fanning said.

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