Horry County looking to add license plate readers, facial-recognition software

Horry County law enforcement officials hope the county council can find money in the budget to help launch a data-sharing information platform, install license plate readers and hire personnel as agencies work to reduce violent crime.

Dignitaries presented some of their budget requests to the county's Public Safety Committee during its Monday meeting.

The data-sharing system — termed a Fusion Center — was previously discussed during a committee meeting. The idea is it's part of a five-prong approach to address violent crime. The five strategies are intervention and prevention, enforcement targeting gun offenders and repeat offenders, prosecution at the federal level, meeting community and social needs, and additional resources, including license plate readers and data-sharing between law enforcement agencies.

On Monday, Horry County Police Chief Joseph Hill and Chief Deputy Tom Fox, from the sheriff's office, presented monetary figures for the first steps of the plan. There is a $103,350 proposed cost for the data system that could be shared by area agencies. Initially, the system would be cloud-based.

The system would provide local police real-time information, Hill said. One aspect is facial-recognition software that would allow an officer to snap a photo of a person and almost immediately know that individual’s identity.

The hope is to hire a full-time crime analyst to review data through the center. That position has a price tag of $112,000.

Another aspect is to install cameras at major thoroughfares around Horry County at a cost of $210,000 to track license plates as people enter and leave the county. The City of Myrtle Beach has a similar system already in place.

"It will help us, especially in investigative purposes," Fox said.

The system could help police track a vehicle after it leaves a crime scene or if it's known for drug trafficking. The license plate readers could also alert police to stolen cars. There also was talk of partnering with private, service agencies, such as tow-truck drivers or pizza delivery workers. Readers would be installed on their cars that could read other license plates and upload the information to the fusion center.

When asked about privacy or "Big Brother" concerns, Fox said the information will not be used to track residents, only for criminal investigations.

Officials also would like the county to hire a community outreach coordinator at a cost of $98,464. The outreach coordinator would work faith-based committees and grassroots groups to share information and serve as a liaison in crime prevention efforts, Fox said. Both said the coordinator would allow them more time to focus on other areas of their duties.

The Horry County Council will consider the financial proposals over the coming months as it sets its Fiscal Year 2019 budget. Hill admitted any system would not be installed until the summer.

"It's a very tight budget, it would be after July 1," Hill said.

If the council does not adopt the proposal, Hill said they will continue their efforts during future budget considerations.