'One step ahead': New cameras lead to arrests, promote safer Augusta, sheriff's office says

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The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office’s new hotspot cameras are proving effective, having led to two homicide arrests and 18 stolen vehicle arrests.

Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office said the implementation of 25 video cameras in April have led to dozens of arrests, including an arrest within 24 hours after the killing of a transgender woman on Boy Scout Road on July 20.

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The sheriff's office only had a few cameras before installing the 25 new cameras. The county later approved funding for an additional 25 cameras using grant money.

“We've already recovered 30 stolen cars and out of those stolen cars, we made 18 different arrests,” Clayton said. “In another 12 incidents, just since April, we had 12 other crimes that we either solved or we made arrests in.”

Those incidents also included multiple armed robberies and multiple hit-and-run accidents. A child molestation suspect who was wanted in five states was also located and arrested using the cameras.

The additional 25 cameras will be set up this week, according to Clayton.

“[Those arrests] are just so far, without the other 25 cameras,” he said. “It's already bearing some great fruit.”

Key locations

Although the sheriff’s office is not releasing the locations of the cameras, Clayton said they will be placed in what they consider to be key locations.

“We identified hotspot areas – areas where we know we have the highest incidence of crime, and we put them on those areas,” he said. “We have put a couple at choke points, where people have to come through to get downtown.”

Adding cameras at choke points can prevent crimes from occurring, Clayton said.

“For example, if there's somebody going down there and they’re driving a stolen car or they are a known gang member, that means they're probably up to no good,” he said. “There are analytics on the cameras that help us to investigate past crimes, and they also help us in trying to prevent future crime.”

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Flock Safety

Flock Safety, which is headquartered in Georgia, creates solar-powered cameras that collect information on every vehicle that drives by.

The data includes license plate numbers and the make, model and color of vehicles. The cameras can even record dents, racks or a total vehicle fingerprint. The data is stored for 30 days and it’s only searchable by an administrator or police departments.

A Flock Safety official said the company is excited for the partnership with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office.

“We have clearly seen the Richmond County Sheriff’s commitment to innovation when it comes to utilizing effective and ethically-built crime-solving technology,” said Garrett Langley, Flock Safety CEO and founder.

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Flock cameras are typically used by neighborhood associations and police departments and cost $2,500 each, with a $2,500 annual renewal fee.

In addition to the county's use of Flock cameras, the Summerville Neighborhood Association purchased two additional Flock cameras on their own in 2020, which are placed on Walton Way and Highland Avenue.

Maggie DeLoach, Summerville Neighborhood Association board president, said most of the crimes that take place in the neighborhood are break-ins and thefts.

"A couple of weeks ago, we had somebody steal construction supplies from a house that someone was redoing and one of our cameras caught him rolling it away," DeLoach said.

After seeing success with the cameras, the board would like to add three more cameras at the other three major thoroughfares in the community.

"We would love more, they're just so expensive and our funding is low," she said. "We would love to partner with the sheriff's office and go in together and get some more."

The neighborhood association is fund raising for additional cameras.

"So many people have asked for more," DeLoach said. "I haven't had any negative response about the cameras and I don't know of any neighbors who have either. Anyone you talk to you wants more, it's just a matter of getting funds."

Funding approved for cameras in downtown Augusta

New funding was also approved to install cameras in hotspot areas in downtown Augusta. The sheriff’s office said it plans to have those cameras installed in 2023.

So far in 2022, there have been three fatal shootings in downtown Augusta. The most recent shooting took place just after 8 p.m. on the 500 block of Broad Street on Aug. 12.

Richmond County deputies responding to the shooting found one person who was shot at least one time. The unidentified person was brought to the hospital for treatment, but their current condition is unknown.

“What [the Downtown Development Authority] is really enthusiastic about is the downtown camera program, which is totally separate from [the implementation of the other cameras], and that's going to be a $500,000 project that we're just now getting underway,” Clayton said.

Those cameras will have even more capabilities, according to the sheriff’s office.

Clayton said he and Sheriff Richard Roundtree have been pushing for more cameras for the past 10 years after seeing success utilizing cameras during their time with the Board of Education police.

“We saw the value of cameras 10 years ago and we've been trying to get the cameras ever since we’ve been here, but we just now have been able to get funding,” he said. “They kept telling us, ‘no.’ We know that it'll be a force multiplier, especially with more suffering from staffing issues. We’ve got to find other ways to maximize technology.”

The sheriff’s office asked for $1.5 million for new cameras, but they only received $500,000.

“We totally believe that after a year or two, they're going to want to do even more cameras,” Clayton said. “We're planting the seeds – we always have to try to be one step ahead.”

This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Sheriff's office: New cameras lead to arrests, promote safer Augusta