Hilton Head Plantation has ratcheted up security after a spate of car break-ins last month resulted in the theft of a handgun and a high-speed chase.
Guests must now show identification, such as a driver's license, to pick up passes and enter the gated community.
Plantation security officers have long been allowed to ask anyone entering the community to show a photo ID but only recently made the practice routine, according to general manager Peter Kristian.
The plantation chose to tighten its procedures after security officers discovered that a man who broke into at least three vehicles inside the community July 22 had entered using a gate pass issued to someone else, Kristian said Monday.
Footage from a surveillance camera at the plantation's front gate showed a guest pass on the dashboard of the suspect's vehicle. Plantation records, though, showed no pass was ever issued to the person, Kristian said.
Plantation officials are unsure how the man obtained the guest pass, but surmise someone either gave him the pass or he received it under a fictitious name.
"Unfortunately, we need to tighten our procedures for the less than 1 percent of the population who are not respectful of the rights and property of others," Kristian said. "No security system is ever fool-proof, however. If we can raise the level of awareness and foil even one individual that has ill intentions, whether it be vandalism, theft or physical harm, the request for identification seems worth the inconvenience and the extra work for our gate officers."
In the past three weeks, Kristian said gate officers noted three instances in which people have been driving without a license or were picking up a pass not in their name.
"It's a subtle effect of saying to the person who may have ill intent, 'This may not be the best place to commit a crime because we know you're here and we just took down your information on your driver's license,' " Kristian said.
Security officers were forced to break off their pursuit July 22 after the vehicle exited the plantation. They called the Sheriff's Office for backup, but deputies were unable to respond in time.
Security officers and the Sheriff's Office later received three reports from residents stating their unlocked vehicles had been rifled through. Two reported nothing missing. A third reported a .38 caliber handgun and five rounds of ammunition stolen from the front seat, along with $15 in cash, according to an incident report.
"Gun owners have a particular and heightened responsibility to keep their weapons secured," Kristian said. "Stolen weapons are a serious threat to the greater community. Weapons should be secured and never left in an unlocked vehicle, let alone in plain sight."
The Sheriff's Office is still investigating the July 22 incident. No suspect has been publicly identified, according to a spokeswoman.
"We see a rash of crime during the summer with more people on the island," Sheriff P.J. Tanner said. "But we see that everywhere on the island, not just Hilton Head Plantation. And, to my knowledge, there hasn't been a recent spike of crime in the plantation."
In fact, reported property crimes on Hilton Head -- including burglaries, larceny and vehicle thefts -- were down from 424 in the second quarter of last year to 346 during the same period this year.
Eight property crimes were reported inside Hilton Head Plantation during April, May and June of this year, according to crime statistics released Monday by the Sheriff's Office.
Other gated communities on the island also have rules governing IDs and gate passes.
Shipyard Plantation on Hilton Head requires Realtors to show ID. Also, property owners who forget their personal identification number for leaving a pass for a visitor must come to the gate in person and present identification before a pass can be issued.
Sea Pines requires owners to show ID when riding in a vehicle without a plantation decal. It does not require guests picking up a pass or visitors who pay a $5 entrance fee to show ID.
"If it's going to deter crime in Hilton Head Plantation, I'm all for it," Tanner said Monday. "But how does checking the ID of someone who has a guest pass waiting for them stop them from committing a crime?"
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Key words: Hilton Head Plantation, Peter Kristian, security, crime, identification, ID, driver's license, surveillance, PJ Tanner, sheriff's office