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Talking camera aimed at sex on the beach

STUART, Fla — That big booming voice Martin County beachgoers might hear next year along the sandy shores will not be coming from the heavens.

It may be Martin County officials trying to scare off people looking for sex on the beach.

The county is exploring the idea of installing “talking” cameras at several of the public beaches to ward off or catch people engaged in public sex.

“I’m all for it,” said Commission Chairman Michael DiTerlizzi, who first proposed putting Web cams at beaches after several recent arrests of men soliciting men for sex at county beaches. “Anything that deters that kind of activity is going to be good.”

FlashCAM devices sense motion and then flash a bright light, said David Graham, assistant to County Administrator Duncan Ballantyne.

After being activated, the cameras issue a pre-recorded verbal warning to let people know they are under surveillance, Graham said. Sixty seconds later, they start recording.

The cameras, which the California company of Q-Star Technology makes, are solar powered and can be connected to light poles or even trees along the shores, Graham said.

In July, a sheriff’s office sting caught six men at two county beaches on charges of either exposing themselves to undercover officers or soliciting them for sex.

Last weekend, a Martin County teacher was arrested and charged with exposing himself to an undercover deputy.

DiTerlizzi’s call for surveillance also comes after several high-profile arrests statewide and nationally involving elected officials soliciting sex in bathrooms.

The commissioner said he wants cameras watching everywhere on the beaches and parking lots but not in the public bathrooms because it would be an invasion of privacy.

Los Angeles officials are using the talking cameras around that city to catch graffiti vandals, said Ben Golombek, spokesman for Los Angeles City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, one of the leading proponents of using the cameras there.

“It serves as a very good deterrent. That’s the key, really,” said Golombek, who said Los Angeles has not used the cameras to tape sex crimes.

The cameras cost about $5,500 each, said Graham, who said he hopes to make a recommendation to county commissioners within a couple weeks.

Martin County Economic Development Council Executive Director Tammy Simoneau questioned whether public sex crimes, or other types of crimes at the beaches, are frequent enough to spend money on buying and maintaining cameras.

“The solution may be may be more expensive than the crime,” she said.

Several months ago Jensen Beach business owners and tourism officials objected to Sheriff Bob Crowder’s erecting signs that warned people about possible burglaries at the beaches, saying the signs would scare off tourists.

Terri Monaghan, executive director of the Martin County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the talking camera idea also could scare off tourists and could be seen as an invasion of privacy.

“My first reaction is that sounds pretty intrusive,” she said.

DiTerlizzi said he probably would support the idea and he suggested equipping the cameras so that once they are activated, 911 dispatchers can watch them and call deputies if they see trouble.

The logistics of wiring all beaches for continuous broadcasting to the Internet would be difficult, Graham said. A county worker would use a computer to go to the beaches and download footage from the camera, he said.

Crowder said he does not have the manpower to station deputies at beaches all the time. But Commission Chairman Doug Smith said he would like to have more deputies at the beaches because there are more problems than just public sex.

“We need to be much more proactive at the beaches in terms of overall security,” Smith said.

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