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Video system aids in resolving recent homicide
SPD hopes to expand Fusus sites across Boro
Pinewood Manor Apartments on Packinghouse Road has significantly increased the number of video cameras in the complex, and joined the Statesboro Police Department's Fusus network. Police say the improved security has resulted in a large drop in crime at P
Pinewood Manor Apartments on Packinghouse Road has significantly increased the number of video cameras in the complex, and joined the Statesboro Police Department's Fusus network. Police say the improved security has resulted in a large drop in crime at Pinewood. Above, a child is seen make their way home from school to Pinewood Manor. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT/staff

About 6:45 p.m. April 23, dispatch at the Statesboro Police Department received a report that a man had been shot to death at Pinewood Manor apartments. A few moments later, using the Fusus video system, the department patched into Pinewood’s video camera system allowing dispatchers to assess the situation and send officers safely to the scene within minutes.

And for Statesboro Police Capt. Jared Akins, the incident at Pinewood is exactly why the department chose to invest in the Fusus system more than a year ago.

“What happened at Pinewood Manor is a good example of the many ways Fusus helps the police and citizens,” Akins said. “We were able to pull up all the cameras there in the initial dispatch and tell the officers headed that way, in real time, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on, this is where it’s at on the property, this where we need to go.’”

Fusus provides the SPD with a system to set up a video-sharing network across the city with any partners willing to be part of the network. Partners can be businesses of any size, apartment complexes – anyone with a fixed-camera video system that is already installed.

“To me, this system is the great leap forward in surveillance technology,” said Statesboro Police Chief Mike Broadhead. “It combines all of the individually owned camera systems into one law enforcement accessible program. It is important to note that we are not adding surveillance. We are simply accessing infrastructure that is already in place into one easy-to-access ‘location.’" 

With the approval of Statesboro City Council in January 2021, the police department contracted with the Atlanta-based Fusus company at a cost of $60,000 per year, which allows the department to set up a network of voluntary video surveillance around the city.

Fusus supplies a core processor that is smaller than a shoebox and is installed at each business or complex that wants to participate. All of the video from existing cameras at the site is connected into the processor. It converts video from different digital formats, called codecs, to a single format so that it can be viewed by police at a single location inside the department.

At this point, the city is paying for the necessary Fusus equipment to be installed at participating locations, so there is no cost to the locations. Broadhead said there probably would be a charge at some point in the future for new Fusus partners.

Three locations were part of the initial launch of Fusus – Fox Ridge Apartments, the One Eleven South complex and McKeithen’s True Value Hardware. In the past 14 months, Akins said the total number of locations is now 29 and three more are scheduled to come online soon.

“The donor sites range from two churches to perimeter cameras Georgia Southern University has given us access to. We’ve got commercial businesses, apartment complexes. It’s a good mixture,” Akins said. “Big or small doesn’t matter. In the right location even a small number of cameras can show a lot more area than you think.”

 

Pinewood Manor

Akins points to the significantly reduced number of crimes that occur at Pinewood Manor since its management and ownership have improved all aspects of the complex's security, including joining the Fusus program shortly after it started.

Also, Akins said Pinewood manager Darla Pitts has been instrumental in improving security and safety at the complex, which is located on Packinghouse Road, shortly after turning right off U.S. 301 North. Pitts said she has been manager at Pinewood for 10 years.

“The new owners strive to give the tenants better housing and a safer place to live,” Pitts said. “In doing that we changed to FEMAC security. We installed new and more cameras throughout the property. I can access the cameras through work, home. Wherever I may need to. If something happens on the property, I know about it. In fact, we recently installed five more cameras to cover every part of the property.”

Being networked with the Fusus system proved particularly useful to police in the immediate aftermath of the April 23 shooting

“Within just a few minutes of officers arriving on the scene and confirming a homicide, dispatch was able to go back and see who was running away from the scene and we were able to isolate some of the footage we needed,” Akins said. “Because Pinewood is part of the Fusus system, it allowed us to see this video immediately before any management was on the scene.

“Now, (Pinewood) manager Darla Pitts was on the scene and she does a great job. But she didn’t have to do anything to give us access to the footage, we had that instantly. Fusus already did that.

“We didn’t know who the suspect was, but were able to identify somebody fleeing the scene,” Akins said. “What that allowed us to do was when a suspect flees on foot, the video trail means we can tell officers to follow this trail through the apartment complex, to see if he threw anything down. If there’s any evidence along that line of flight. Also, it lets us know where he exited the complex, and it gives us a starting point for deploying K9 teams. So if you have a tracking dog or an evidence search dog, the video shows exactly where to start instead of having to search all through the complex.”

Detectives were able to identify Chaz Burgest, 32, as the primary suspect and issue an arrest warrant. Burgest turned himself in Tuesday, April 26, and he faces charges of felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

Pitts said she spoke with many residents after the shooting.

“I reassured the tenants I was doing everything I could to help the police. I asked the residents to do everything they could to help, as well,” she said. “When I got the call from Captain Akins that they caught the guy, I was able to make the call to some very concerned residents and let them know everything was safe. They were very appreciative.”

 

Other security measures

Akins said Pinewood also has enhanced its security by doing something very simple that everyone could do.

“Pinewood posts signs everywhere about its security measures and that alone will lessen incidents,” Akins said.

The complex has more than a dozen signs posted indicating all outside areas are monitored by video. The complex also has a “tagging system,” in which all vehicle license plates are photographed entering and exiting the complex. Pitts said she can easily give law enforcement a photo of a tag if they request it.

And Pitts and the Pinewood owners decided to become part of the Fusus system as soon as they found out about it.

“We were one of the first apartments to sign on,” Pitts said. “The owners understood right away how this would be helpful for our residents. If something happens and I’m not here, the police can pull those cameras and see what’s going on as it is happening.”

 

Expanding Fusus

While both Chief Broadhead and Akins are pleased with the growth of the Fusus program since its inception, they hope to convince many more local business and local apartment complexes of its benefits.

“To locations that are reluctant, I would ask them to call us and we can sit down with them one-on-one, show them how the system works from our end, and let them read the agreement and send it to their corporate lawyers or management team,” Broadhead said.

Akins added:

“Some of the bigger complexes that are corporately owned are reluctant,” he said. “We have had no legal issues so far and don’t anticipate any. We are really, really flexible in working with what businesses, complexes and individuals are comfortable in allowing what their video cameras give us.”

Akins is available at (912) 764-9911 or by email at jared.akins@statesboroga.gov.

 

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