Video: Beaufort apartment complex boosts security
A resident at August on Southside apartments in Port Royal had barely moved in when she started to worry about crime.
She looked outside her window one night and saw a man slip into her neighbor’s apartment through a window. Another day, her neighbor went door-to-door, asking if anyone knew who stole his hubcaps. Many nights, she heard commotions as outsiders gathered in the parking lot, she said.
She worries because there are no locks on her windows — the apartment complex’s management has ordered them, but they haven’t come in yet. So she uses a stick to keep the panes shut.
“I can barely sleep at night,” said the woman, who wished to remain anonymous to protect her security. “I moved to South Carolina for peace of mind. To feel safe. Not for this.”
Throughout Beaufort County, crimes reported to police tend to cluster around a few apartment complexes.
An analysis by the Beaufort Gazette and the Island Packet revealed that in 2014 four apartments were among the addresses where police reported the most non-traffic crimes. As reported earlier this week, the county’s Walmarts and three local schools also made the list of the top 10 addresses with the most reports.
I can barely sleep at night. I moved to South Carolina for peace of mind. To feel safe. Not for this.
Resident of August on Southside apartments
The numbers also show:
*August on Southside, a 96-unit complex at 2208 Southside Blvd., posted 115 crime reports to police. It was the most of any apartment complex in the county. The largest share of reports —37— were for disorderly conduct or trespassing, often reported by the complex’s management team. There were also 17 calls for domestic disputes, 10 thefts and 10 assaults reported.
*Hilton Head Gardens, a 112-unit complex at 11 Southwood Park Dr. on Hilton Head Island, reported 113 crimes. That includes 24 reports of trespassing cases and 20 assaults. There were also 19 drug violations, including nine related to the sale of crack cocaine.
*Avalon Shores, known in 2014 as Bluffton House, also made the list. This 280-unit complex at 20 Simmonsville Road in Bluffton posted 107 crime reports. That included 34 thefts, 10 assaults, one armed robbery and one kidnapping.
*Lakes at Myrtle Park, a 360-unit complex at 4921 Bluffton Pkwy., had 88 police reports. That included 31 thefts and 11 burglaries.
Overhauling August on Southside
For years, August on Southside had been plagued with drugs, domestic disputes, noise complaints and theft, according to police reports.
But a high-profile violent crime last year convinced the apartment’s management that big security upgrades had to be done.
Last October, a 32-year-old man was shot in the chest at his apartment in the complex after he confronted an unknown man who knocked on his door and ran away, according to the Port Royal Police Department.
Apartment manager Amanda Pett surveyed residents, asking what security improvements they would like to see.
This month, she is putting their responses into action, repairing a fence behind the apartments, adding new lighting in the parking lot, installing security cameras and displaying security warning signs at the complex’s front entrance.
Part of the complex’s office will be transformed into a Port Royal Police substation this month to improve police visibility.
“Most of our problems have been people trespassing here, not the people that live here” Pett said. “So we want to show them that this is not the place to come and cause trouble.”
Up until this month, the complex had not run official background checks on residents apart from searching local court records. Now, all new residents are checked through the State Law Enforcement Division’s background check system, Pett said.
Port Royal Police Chief Alan Beach said that similar efforts at the Stuart Towne Apartments have already been successful in reducing crime and hopes for a similar result at August on Southside.
“We hope this will get (the police department) in there a little more,” Beach said. “Just the presence can do a lot for prevention.”
As for the resident scared for her safety at the complex, she is hopeful too.
“That’s at least moving in the right direction,” she said.
Years of efforts at Hilton Head Gardens, Bluffton House
The addresses with the second and third highest number of report crimes: Hilton Head Gardens and Bluffton House, have been undergoing similar efforts to clean up crime in recent years.
Sometimes called the “tri-community,” Hilton Head Gardens and the nearby complexes of Sandlewood Terrace and The Oaks, have been considered crime trouble spot for decades, say town officials.
But the nature of the reports has changed in recent years. A greater percentage are now minor crimes, said Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner. For example, the most-reported crime in 2014 was trespassing.
Tanner said he sees the high number of police reports as a positive sign. It’s proof a relationship has been built between residents and his deputies, he said.
“A lot of those calls are reports from people who live there,” Tanner said. “That didn’t happen before. It shows that there is trust there now.”
It is just one strategy among a new security plan that management developed in an overhaul of the property in 2008, following a high profile crime.
In 2008, Harry Fripp III, 19, was chased down by three masked men and stabbed at least a dozen times just beyond the courtyard between Hilton Head Gardens and Sandalwood Terrace, according to Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office investigators.
As a result, the sheriff’s office created a substation in Hilton Head Gardens, added cameras and removed tree canopies covering part of the property to improve visibility. The camera system has proven a big help, including capturing footage of a shooting that led to arrests, said Tanner and Hilton Head Gardens manager Debbie Carroll.
Hilton Head Gardens resident Sally Brown, who moved to the complex 17 years ago, said the property has been completely transformed since the security upgrades.
“When I came here this place was a wreck,” said Brown, who sheriff’s deputies have nicknamed “the martial” for her role as a community watchdog who reports potential wrongdoers. “The apartments were unreal; the drug (trafficking) was unreal. I fought like hell to get people in line. It was infected.”
Today, there are no groups that congregate and cause problems in the parking lot at night, Brown said. She hears fewer gun shots. And she sees sheriff’s deputies regularly outside her door.
“They took my ‘Waldorf’ and got it under control,” Brown said, referring to her neighborhood. “It’s still not perfect. There are still some bad apples. But I don’t give a ham sandwich who you ask around here — they’ll tell you this place is 1 million percent better.”
So why has crime continued to cluster in this area for so long?
Tanner said there is no one reason, but higher levels of low-income residents may make the area a target for criminals who seek out vulnerable victims.
Carroll believes decades of crime are hard to weed out in just a few years. She said she works with law enforcement and is strict about kicking out trespassers in order to change the complex’s reputation as a place where crime can go unnoticed.
“It’s hard to change a reputation,” she said. “But we’re doing everything we can.”
When I came here this place was a wreck. The apartments were unreal; the drug (trafficking) was unreal. I fought like hell to get people in line. It was infected.
Sally Brown, resident of Hilton Head Gardens
Similar issues are at play at Bluffton House, which underwent a rebranding effort this fall and changed its name to Avalon Shores, Tanner said.
In an attempt to curb crime in the area, several deputies moved into the complex in recent years to improve visibility. But crime levels have remained consistent, Tanner said.
“You have so many people coming in and out of there everyday,” Tanner said. “It’s hard to manage.”
Managers at the complex refused to comment on crime trends and referred all questions to their corporate owner, Aspen Square Management. The company did not return several calls for comment.
Wave of property crime at Lakes at Myrtle Park
While the Lakes at Myrtle Park had some of the highest number of crime reports in 2014, Tanner does not consider it a crime hot spot.
“At that complex you have more than 900 people who live there and even more visitors,” Tanner said. “So that level of calls doesn’t concern me.”
The 2014 numbers may have also been thrown off at the complex, Tanner said, because of a wave of auto break-ins and other thefts in Bluffton at the time.
One resident agrees that they don’t consider crime a problem at the complex.
“We find our apartment quiet, private and safe,” said new resident Bob Coyler.
Property management also emphasized crime has never been a big concern. They say the number of crime reports at face value don’t tell you everything about a community and what it takes to create a good place to live.
About this series
A few spots in Beaufort County demand an outsized share of police time and public resources. The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette reviewed thousands of police reports to identify the addresses where officers wrote the most reports in 2014. The data was used to build a top 10 list of crime hot spots.
On Feb. 10, we explored why the county’s two Walmarts were the top locations for crime reports.
On Feb. 12, we looked at the three schools and the apartment complexes that round out the list.
County’s top 10 spots for reported crime:
1. Walmart Supercenter at 350 Robert Smalls Parkway, Beaufort
206 incidents reported
2. Walmart Supercenter at 25 Pembroke Drive, Hilton Head
162 incidents reported
3. The Barmuda Triangle at 7 Greenwood Drive, Hilton Head
146 incidents reported
4. Battery Creek High School at 1 Blue Dolphin Drive, Beaufort
128 incidents reported
5. Hilton Head Gardens Apartments at 11 Southwood Park Drive, Hilton Head 115 incidents reported
6. August on Southside Apartments at 2808 Southside Blvd., Port Royal 113 incidents reported
7. Avalon Shores Apartment at 20 Simmonsville Road, Bluffton
107 incidents reported
8. Beaufort High School at 84 Sea Island Parkway, Beaufort
102 incidents reported
9. Robert Smalls International Academy at 43 W.K Alston Drive, Beaufort 89 incidents reported
10. Lakes at Myrtle Park Apartments at 4921 Bluffton Parkway, Bluffton
88 incidents reported
Source: 2014 police reports