Bluffton’s expanding festival and event calendar attracts so many attendees that the Bluffton Police Department requested the town install cameras in strategic locations for public safety.
“We conducted a security survey throughout the town and noted that downtown has a high volume of visitor traffic both on foot and in cars. There was no one incident that prompted the request for the camera system,” said Maj. Joseph Manning, the department’s deputy chief. “We also have the majority of our special events in the downtown area. We decided to start the system in this area as added security during these events.”
Last fall, town council approved the request for the system, paid for with hospitality tax revenues.
Manning said the department continuously evaluates areas in which they can improve public safety and towns like Greenville, S.C., and Fayetteville, N.C., are successfully using the camera system.
“Fayetteville has a robust camera system. We are going up to see what’s working and what’s not working,” Manning said. “We’ll see how they are operating the system and what the long term goals are to grow it. Then we will put together our policy.”
The system came from WildFire Camera Networks and was a sole-source bid based on the department’s needs, Manning said.
Cameras are being installed in Old Town along Calhoun Street from the May River to May River Road and along May River Road from S.C. Highway 46 to Pin Oak Drive. There are also cameras at Dubois Park and the Oyster Factory Park.
Some of the merchants and business owners in Old Town agree with installing the cameras.
“I think it’s a good idea, especially at night,” said Babbie Guscio, owner of The Store on Calhoun Street. “There are just a lot more people around and I think it might prevent things from happening. People might think about being even nicer than they already are. And maybe even dressing up.”
Manning said that all of the cameras – 21 in total – will be visible, mounted on power and light poles in the area.
Vickie Jourdan, a founding member and one of the many curators of Pluff Mudd Art, also on Calhoun, agrees that the cameras are a good idea.
“This area has gotten quite busy in the past few years,” Jourdan said. “We haven’t had any problems as far as vandalism or anything like that but I think monitoring traffic speeds on Calhoun and at the four-way stop is good.”
Two visitors from Chattanooga, Tenn., were comfortable with the thought of being monitored on a security camera. “It doesn’t bother me a bit,” said Carla Brooks. “I’d rather be safe.”
Kim Moyer agreed with her friend. “I don’t care,” she said. Moyer said Chattanooga has similar cameras near traffic lights, “but not anything like this.”
The cameras themselves might be stationary, but police officers can monitor them through a remote server at the headquarters and from the laptop computers in their cruisers.
“These cameras are no more intrusive than any business with video or the average citizen who carries and operates a cell phone camera,” Manning said. “These cameras are in the public view where any citizen walks or drives.”
Manning said public safety is the primary goal. “We want the community and its visitors to be safe and secure as they enjoy the downtown area,” he said. “The department will also be able to review video if a crime occurs in the area monitored by the system.”
Once the system is up and running, the police will be able to see how the cameras are achieving the desired goals.
The target date for completion is mid-July.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.