New Myrtle Beach police surveillance tool getting its first test

Myrtle Beach police have a new way to keep an eye on activities from above and they'll be testing it out over Labor Day weekend.

Police are using their new Skywatch tower for the first time at this weekend's Beach, Boogie and Barbeque festival.

Officers say the tower will give them a new perspective allowing them to spot potential problems at major events.

The tower has four cameras on board and gives police a way to see what's going on from 25 feet up.

It has a night vision feature and one camera that's zoomable, allowing police to possibly make out a face or maybe even a person's tattoo from many yards away.

Officers can even see what the cameras see without having anyone inside the cab.

"I can watch it from my desk, I'll be able to watch it from my smartphone. I can't control the camera from that, but I can view (what it sees)," said Capt. Kevin Heins, of the MBPD patrol division.

Heins says the department has been looking in to buying a tower for a couple of years.

The violence that marred this year's Memorial Day weekend Bikefest added some motivation.

"The police department stressed why we wanted it more again after Bike Week and we were given the approval to go ahead and purchase it," Heins said.

The display of the tower on Friday caught the attention of Myrtle Beach resident David Shannon.

He says any privacy concern that comes from having surveillance cameras in the sky is worth the tradeoff in security.

"Our privacy is important, whatever that means anymore, but for the safety part of it, I think that's a good thing," Shannon said.

The tower cost about $140,000. So far, about a dozen officers have been trained in how to use it.

Heins says the department will loan out the tower to other area cities to use for their big events.