Bluffton police ponder proposal to install surveillance cameras in town

dburley@islandpacket.comFebruary 27, 2014 

The town of Bluffton might soon have its eyes on you.

Bluffton police are considering a proposal to install 14 surveillance cameras in public places such as Buckwalter Parkway and Old Town, according to Chief Joey Reynolds.

"It would be for general public safety," Reynolds said Thursday. "There's a crime-prevention aspect; we could monitor festivals, traffic, things like that."

Reynolds added that the cameras would deter crime and help with investigations.

Preliminary plans given to Town Council showed camera locations clustered around Calhoun Street and Buckwalter Place.

Reynolds said the cameras would record on a 10-day loop, and the recordings would be permissible as evidence in court.

The camera footage would feed to a network visible from the police department's headquarters. In some cases, such as a festival, Reynolds said, police would use a trailer as a command center to monitor crowds.

Asked about potential privacy concerns, Reynolds said the cameras would only be installed in public places and would not target individual properties.

"We wouldn't put cameras outside homes that receive complaints," he said. "We can't do that, and that's not the purpose of this."

Public surveillance cameras have already been installed elsewhere in Beaufort County.

In recent years, the Town of Hilton Head Island set up more than 100 cameras in parks, parking lots, boat landings and public buildings. Those cameras are operated by the town, but the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office can tap them for a live feed or to look at recorded footage, Sgt. Robin McIntosh said.

"We're kind of behind on this," Reynolds, the Bluffton chief, said.

A Charlotte-based company, WildFire Camera Networks, asked Bluffton for $80,000 to install the wireless cameras, which can tilt, pan and zoom, according to the plans.

The company has set up cameras for governments and school systems throughout the Southeast, including the cities of Laurens and Anderson, according to its website.

Attempts Thursday to reach a company spokesman were unsuccessful.

Revenue from the town's accommodations tax on overnight lodging would pay for the cameras, because tourists frequent the areas targeted for surveillance, Mayor Lisa Sulka said. Revenue from the accommodations tax must be spent on things related to tourism.

Town Council must approve the project before any surveillance can occur.

At its annual retreat Thursday, council called the cameras a "top priority" to be completed within the next year.

"I think it's like putting another officer on the street," Councilman Larry Toomer said.

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