TREASURE ISLAND — Beginning in a few weeks, two surveillance cameras will start monitoring beachgoers on Sunset Beach.
"It just sounds like Big Brother. It seems frightening to live in that area. It's a little like overkill," resident Marie Barber said, concerned that cameras might point down her street.
"I think you are safe, Marie," Mayor Bob Minning told her later after confirming that the cameras would focus on beach activity, not the surrounding neighborhood.
The roving electronic eyes will be mounted on poles on the north and south sides of Caddy's on the Beach restaurant and bar as part of a broad program to better control spring break and summer crowds of beachgoers that mushroomed into the thousands last year.
Those crowds prompted ongoing complaints from residents, multiple and contentious commissions meetings, a petition drive to prohibit alcohol on the beach, an official ban on beer kegs, and most recently, a lawsuit against both Caddy's and the city for what residents argue is a failure to protect their neighborhoods.
"We learned many lessons from last year and are going to start out heavier this year," police Chief Tim Casey told city commissioners Tuesday as he outlined his new law enforcement plan for Sunset Beach.
The cameras will be installed within the next two weeks. Increased street patrols on Sunset Beach will begin by the end of this month. On March 6, a special beach detail will begin patrolling the beach area near Caddy's.
Up to nine uniformed and plainclothes officers will patrol the beach and the waters directly off the beach. They will also work in residential areas, enforce parking and traffic violations, and set up DUI checkpoints March through May, and possibly beyond to Labor Day.
Casey said the cameras and the heavy police presence should provide a significant deterrence to inappropriate and illegal behavior among beachgoers.
The cameras will be monitored and remotely controlled by police communications officers at the police station.
The "biggest change," according to Casey, will be his department's response to criminal acts, particularly underage drinking and public intoxication.
"Last year we gave warning notices and appearance tickets. This year we will be arresting people and transporting them to jail," Casey said. "We believe seeing people taken away with their arms handcuffed behind backs will have an impact."
Caddy's owner, Tony Amico, also plans to increase efforts to prevent misbehavior among his patrons.
"I don't want to make any more waves. I want to try and mitigate the problem," he told the commission.
Amico is paying the salaries of three of the beach patrol officers, as well as hiring officers to direct traffic past his restaurant.
Patrons on portions of the beach he owns will be prohibited from bringing their own alcohol in coolers. Those who do will be asked to move to the public portion of the beach.
In addition, the city plans to install portable toilets to the north and south of Caddy's to help alleviate previous complaints that beachgoers were urinating in public — and sometimes in residential yards.
The city is also hoping to get permission from the county and the state to allow parking on only one side of Sunset Beach's narrow streets to ensure access for emergency vehicles.
This month, the commission will discuss a proposed ordinance that would set up rules and enforcement procedures for commercial parking lots throughout the city. Many, including some lots at Caddy's, apparently are not zoned for parking.