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Sheriff patrols rise in Forest Beach areas due to break-ins

(Editor's note: Information in this story was corrected Jan. 6, 2011.)

After a rash of home and car break-ins during summer and late fall, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office has more deputies than ever patrolling Hilton Head Island's North and South Forest Beach neighborhoods -- an effort that's deterred would-be criminals, according to Sheriff P.J. Tanner.

Capt. Toby McSwain told members of the town's Public Safety Committee on Monday his office has between six and eight patrol officers and plainclothes investigators working the streets of the south-end neighborhoods at any given time.

Since about Thanksgiving, "we've had more manpower focused on the area than any other time, but it's a difficult thing to police," McSwain said. "We've made some arrests, but we're dealing with multiple people and different groups, not just juveniles like we've seen in the past."

Stemming break-ins in the neighborhoods was set Monday as a goal for 2011 by the Public Safety Committee.

According to sheriff's reports, about 15 homes in the area, some of which are vacation rentals, were burglarized in July, August and September. About eight break-ins occurred in October, and about five were burglarized in November, the report said.

Committee Chairman Bill Harkins suggested the committee, the Sheriff's Office and property management companies organize a community meeting with residents and renters to discuss break-ins.

"The criminal activity in these areas is having an erosive impact on the image of the island," Harkins said.

McSwain said he welcomed a community meeting.

McSwain told committee members that because of budget restrictions, the extra patrols could not continue indefinitely. Many officers patrolling the area are working overtime, he said.

Tanner, reached by phone after the meeting, he said extra officers will be on duty "for as long as it takes."

Tanner said officers have arrests for crimes in the area but reached after hours could not go into detail about patrol locations or times.

Tanner said residents should lock their vehicles and keep an eye on their neighbors' properties. He said 80 percent of reported vehicle break-ins are because of unlocked cars.

"The easiest and most effective tactic is to be a good steward to your property and your neighbors' property," he said. "If there's a strange car in someone's driveway, call us and report it."

NEW SUBSTATION SOUGHT

In other business, the Sheriff's Office presented its areas of focus for 2011. The top priority is a new southern Beaufort County substation.

It has rented its current office at 7 Lagoon Road near the Coligny traffic circle for about 10 years at a rate of about $185,000 per year, Tanner said after the meeting. Half of the substation's funding comes from the town and the other half from the county, he said.

The office has wanted to rent or buy a new facility for several years and has presented the need to the committee in the past. Tanner hopes to buy a building and add modifications, such as holding cells for prisoners. He declined to estimate how much that would cost.

"It's been a top priority for a few years, and this past year, we made the most headway by looking at a lot of properties. We just haven't found the right one," he said. "We've outgrown this one and it's in poor condition, but money and where it's going to come from is a big problem right now."

Other Sheriff's Office priorities for 2011 include:

  • The installation of at least four additional surveillance cameras at primary intersections on the island's public streets. McSwain said possible locations include Coligny and Sea Pines circles and the entrance to Hilton Head Plantation.
  • A route change for the annual St. Patrick's Day parade. McSwain said the parade has outgrown its current Pope Avenue route and suggested moving the parade to start at the Cross Island Parkway and end at Honey Horn.
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