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Public safety: Cameras keep watch and provide clues

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Around 3 p.m. last Wednesday a silver Chevy Lumina pulled into the First Street beach access on Pawleys Island. The frame of a beach tent was stuff into the trunk so the lid wouldn’t close.

When the car came out a short time later, the trunk still wasn’t closed, but this time there was a bicycle keeping it open.

The episode played out on security cameras installed at the access by the town of Pawleys Island last year. The reason for the different cargo became apparent when a 16-year-old boy arrived at the police department to report his bike had been stolen.

The town now has security cameras at the public parking lot on the island’s south end. Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association this year paid for cameras at the entrances to North Litchfield and Litchfield Beach.

The south end parking lot is the largest free beach access in Georgetown County. It’s too soon to tell whether the cameras will deter car break-ins, Police Chief Mike Fanning said. None have been reported since the cameras were installed last month.

The cameras aren’t monitored – “I’d rather have the guys on the street, Fanning said – but the officers can view the images on their smartphones and from their office in Town Hall. In one instance, Fanning saw a car at the south end with a broken rear window. He found the damage was not recent. In another, he saw a tractor-trailer that had strayed onto the island. The driver was trying to turn around in the crowded parking lot so police went down to help. “We were trying to avoid doing an accident report,” Fanning said.

The town also has cameras on the North Causeway and South Causeway that read license plates. They report any tags that are wanted or subject to outstanding warrants. The data has also helped police identify suspects in several cases. The town credits those cameras with curbing break-ins in vacant beach houses during the winter.

The Litchfield Beaches POA installed cameras in May in response to off-season house break-ins. Only the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office has access to the video. There were five thefts reported in the area in June and July of 2014. Only one has been reported this year: a surfboard stolen at Litchfield Beach.

“That’s good, isn’t it?” said Ladd Dezendorf, president of the association. He hasn’t heard of any other incidents from property owners or the sheriff’s office, but he said it’s too early to say if the cameras have had an impact. The winter will be the real test, he said.

Lt. Mike Nelson of the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office called the Litchfield Beaches cameras “indispensable.” The sheriff’s office has used the video, but he said he couldn’t discuss details.

Pawleys Island Police posted a photo of the Chevy Lumina with the bike in its trunk on social media and asked for any tips about the driver. While the camera also recorded the license plate number, it turned out to be a stolen plate, Fanning said.

The camera captured other details he hopes will help: a decal on the door, a front license plate. The driver was in shadow.

And while there haven’t been any car break-ins reported, Pawleys police are investigating six cases where cash was stolen from unlocked beach houses. Fanning hopes camera data will provide some leads in those cases.

“It’s a help,” he said.

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