Myrtle Beach police unveil new Skywatch tower

Myrtle Beach police believe they have enhanced their ability to protect and help people during various events in the city.

City police officers can now be about 25 feet above crowds in a new SkyWatch tower, maintaining surveillance and being a point of reference for anyone who needs assistance during any of the numerous large crowd events held annually, including biker rallies.

The tower, which the police department purchased earlier this year, cost about $140,000, according to Capt. Kevin Heins, who helped unveil it Friday.

Its inaugural use will be during this Labor Day holiday weekend at the 9th annual Beach, Boogie & BBQ Festival, which will be at the Horry Georgetown Technical College Conference Center in The Market Common, according to Myrtle Beach police Lt. Doug Furlong.

The SkyWatch is to help the department more effectively deal with large crowds, Furlong said, and it will help police see what’s going on which will have a benefit in deterring crime and a benefit for people to know that will be the location to go for help, Furlong said.

Furlong said the SkyWatch could be used during events such as the annual Memorial Day holiday celebration, which this year turned violent. Three people died and seven were injured in eight shootings on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day weekend. Several thousand people were in town for the Atlantic Beach Bikefest, Military Appreciation Days or to take advantage of a three-day weekend at the beach.

In addition to lifting armed officers above crowds at large events, the mobile surveillance tower has cameras that include night vision capabilities and video recording systems, Furlong said.

“The tower is deployed at a number of different events. It allows us to be able to get a better view of the entire area for the safety of everyone,” Furlong said.

“It also gives someone the ability to see the tower if they need assistance; they can go to it to get help.”

Myrtle Beach police are one of the first departments in the area to utilize such a tower.

The tower is made by Oregon based FLIR Systems, a company that specialized in thermal imaging technologies when it began in 1978, according to the company’s website.

The tower is self-sustained, moves by hydraulic motion and is customized by each department with surveillance equipment.