NORTH CHARLESTON - Weary of the gunfire routinely heard at the Ashley Shores Apartments in North Charleston, residents and community activists Thursday installed the first of three digital cameras they hope will catch suspects in the act.

"Every weekend it's like a 'little Vietnam' in here," said church Elder James Johnson, who hopes technology can be a tool for other neighborhoods with similar problems.

"It's the way to fight crime," he said. "We don't have a choice. There's too much crime in the black community."

The camera is mounted 18 feet up on an oak tree at the complex's entrance off Azalea Drive. It will record vehicles coming in and out of the area. Other cameras will follow in the coming months. They are jointly supported by the landlord, North Charleston police and Project Unity U.S.A., a nonprofit organization that has worked to implement crime-reduction programs and projects in communities.

Bruce A. Trezevant, founder of Project Unity, helped bring in the camera through his company, Strategic Integrated Technology, a security business. Via laptop computers, the cameras will capture images of people or trespassers both day and night. The recordings can be stored for months.

Police for now won't be monitoring the cameras "live" but hope to later. The images will mainly be relied on as an investigation and deterrent tool.

Ashley Shores has a reputation as a tough neighborhood, though many locals say the most severe crimes committed are from people who live elsewhere coming into the neighborhood. Spencer Pryor, the police department's public relations officer, said crimes reported there in the last 18 months include rape, robbery and vandalism by gunshot. Last month, three men were wounded in one night by gunfire. That was the second shooting in less than a month.

Victoria Middleton of the S.C. American Civil Liberties Union, said there are privacy concerns associated with public cameras. For instance, will there be a prohibition on pointing them into private residences, she asked, and who will be allowed to view the recordings?

"There have been abuses" elsewhere, she said, adding that it is even questionable whether cameras actually deter crime. The camera installed Thursday is "fixed" on the public roadway and can't be moved.

Johnson said the cameras are needed because criminals now act without fear, even boldly shooting out street lights as soon as they are repaired. His biggest concern is the safety of the dozens of children who live in the community.

"Bullets don't have a name," he said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551 or

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