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Litchfield Beaches: POA puts up cameras at entrance roads

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Security cameras went up last week at the entrances to Litchfield Beach and North Litchfield in an effort by the area property owners association to curb break-ins. The cameras won’t be monitored, like those in the town of Pawleys Island or the city of Georgetown, but they will record video that can be accessed by the sheriff’s office, said Ladd Dezendorf, president of the Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association. “The big thing about cameras is the deterrence,” he said.

There are boxes with four cameras each at Litchfield Drive, Boyle Drive and Trace Drive. The association is installing a street light near the camera on Boyle to improve nighttime images.

The town of Pawleys Island installed license plate cameras at its two entrances in the fall of 2013 after 13 break-ins at vacant beach houses that January. There was only one burglary the following year and one this year, according to police records. The town installed video cameras at its First Street beach access last year and plans to install more at the public parking lot on the island’s south end.

The Litchfield Beaches association started discussing cameras last spring after more than two dozen break-ins were reported over the winter. The sheriff’s office agreed to collect information from license plate readers, which is matched by the State Law Enforcement Division against a national database. But the association board decided to poll members after some raised concerns about privacy and the effectiveness of the cameras.

“There was an overwhelming positive response,” Dezendorf said. There were also a couple of dozen break-ins reported in the area this winter. In March, the sheriff’s office charged a Murrells Inlet man with 25 counts of burglary. It used a portable license plate reader in its investigation, Sheriff Lane Cribb said.

The POA board decided to install video cameras because they are less expensive than the license plate readers. The association doesn’t actually own the cameras. It paid for installation and monitoring. The license plate readers were $57,000. “We’re paying just a few thousand,” Dezendorf said. “If these cameras do the job for us, we’ve put out less than the maintenance cost” of the license plate readers. If not, the association can upgrade.

Statewide Security, a Columbia firm, installed and will maintain the cameras. It also installed the Pawleys Island and Georgetown cameras. When the Pawleys Island police needed video to investigate a break-in last month, the company downloaded the video and helped officers focus their search to the right time period, Police Chief Mike Fanning said.

The Litchfield Beaches association thinks the stored video from the cameras will be more helpful for investigating break-ins than license plate readers because many of the crimes aren’t discovered right away, Dezendorf said. Statewide will provide the camera data to the sheriff’s office, if requested.

“There will be no monitoring by anyone in the community or the association,” Dezendorf said. “That would be a little problematic.”

The association’s annual meeting is this weekend and Dezendorf plans to make a pitch to members to install security cameras at their homes. “They cost less than $200 and don’t require a monthly fee,” he said. The systems can be set up to send an e-mail or text alert to absentee owners. Those systems require an Internet connection, but the Litchfield Beaches POA has signed a new contract with Time Warner Cable for bulk television and Internet service. Members get TV, Internet and a wireless modem for $37 a month, with the price guaranteed for two years, he said. Since he notified members, “my phone’s been ringing off the hook,” he said.

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