Charleston, S.C., to Use Municipal Surveillance System

Charleston city officials have purchased 45 new homeland security cameras to install around City Hall, and they're considering buying more for other city buildings and even some high-crime zones in the city.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said he's going to make increased video surveillance a priority during the rest of his administration.

He's advocating cameras should be installed on many of the city's streets and public areas, not just in government buildings.

"Electronic surveillance works," he said. "If lawbreakers are even suspicious that they might be under surveillance, they might avoid this area all together. That's my goal."

About half of the cameras dedicated for City Hall and the nearby Shanklin Parking Building - paid for through a $1 million federal grant - already have been installed inside and outside the Virginia Street complex.

Officials said they want to begin installing cameras in the Public Works Complex on Pennsylvania Avenue and at the Sanitary Board offices in late spring or early summer.

The cameras will assist police and homeland security officials in the fight against crime, city leaders said.

Charleston city officials had obtained a state homeland security grant two years ago, and it was then - under the leadership of former public safety director Mark Wolford - that they began thinking about buying the homeland security cameras for government buildings.

A city electrician began installing the cameras about six months ago at City Hall and the parking garage.

Officials said they decided to begin by placing the cameras there because they felt government buildings were the most crucial to protect.

"When they (homeland security and emergency services officials) did their assessments of the city, government buildings were high on the priority for homeland security," said Grant Gunnoe, homeland security and emergency services director for Charleston.

The city hopes to monitor areas of concern in City Hall.

"It would help to identify persons when incidents do occur," Molgaard said. "They might also act as a deterrent (to crime).

Molgaard said city officials already have had some discussion about installing cameras elsewhere in town.

"Certainly it would help us to monitor certain areas of concern throughout the city," he said.

It might take years, though, before the city will be able to afford - or secure more grant money - to purchase enough cameras to cover the city.

"It's going to be a focus of my next term to try to use video surveillance for law enforcement," Jones said. "That's a long term goal. It's going to take years and years to do that, but I will continue working on that as long as I am in office."

With the help of the cameras, officials may be able to stop crime before it starts by watching for any strange activity, Gunnoe said.

"It does allow us to monitor the facility and monitor any unusual activity that is going on (to protect) personnel," he said.

Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster said he's in favor of the visual surveillance.

"I'm glad to have them," he said. "From a homeland security standpoint, if we have any threats or suspicious activity, we can use those. It will definitely give us a monitoring tool in case something does happen. They are used after the fact as well as deterring the crime."

The police department already had cameras inside its section of City Hall and outside the department's booking area on the first floor. The new cameras have been placed elsewhere in the building, but city officials didn't say where.

Additional cameras would be a good idea, Webster said.

"The cameras are a great idea and we're very supportive of them," he said.

A recent article in the Washington Post noted that homeland security cameras are being installed in smaller towns across the country. The article stated that spokesmen for the federal Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security could not compile a list of the number of cameras or how much government money had been supplied to purchase the cameras.

Homeland security cameras are emerging in many smaller cities as a way to monitor crime, and to collect evidence in case there are no other leads in certain incidents, the Washington Post story reported.

Charleston is no different than those other small cities, officials said. And they said they hope criminals take notice of the new surveillance.

"We hope they (criminals) move out of the city," Molgaard said.

The city just began three weeks ago purchasing the cameras and equipment of the Public Works Complex and the Sanitary Board offices. Those departments will provide half of the money for the cameras and the rest will come from the most recent state homeland security grant.