By Beth Lawrence

 

An incident last summer has led the county to set up security cameras on Courthouse Hill in front of the Jackson County Public Library, county officials said.

“This would have happened a lot sooner, but the cameras have been on backorder for quite a while because of the chip shortage,” county Manager Don Adams said. “There’ll be around nine cameras that’ll provide coverage for the stairwells, the statue and also the fountain down at the bottom.”

The summer of 2020 was fraught with protests surrounding police reform and racial equality.

In that time, the Confederate monument on county property in downtown Sylva became a flashpoint for those on both sides of the issue. Activists supporting racial equality wanted the statue removed because they feel it glorifies a racist and dehumanizing era for Blacks in U.S. history. Others, operating under the banner of heritage, wanted it left alone. After several months of wrangling, including two requests from the Sylva Town Board to remove the statue, Jackson County Board of Commissioners decided in November to cover the Confederate battle flag on the statue’s base and the words “Our heroes of the Confederacy” with plaques.

During the demonstrations, most people chose to carry signs with slogans announcing their views, but one night in June an unknown individual or individuals spray-painted racially motivated slogans – “Blank Lives Matter” and “Floyd was a thug” – on the benches around the fountain below the statue. In response, the county placed a temporary video camera in the area.

The camera was not the correct equipment for the need because it required a lot of manpower to operate, store and review footage, Adams said.

During budget talks, county officials decided to install a permanent system of security cameras in the area.

Thirty thousand dollars was earmarked for a more comprehensive camera system that is less labor-intensive. The task has cost the county around $28,000, thus far.

Mountain Access Control of Waynesville began work to lay the foundation for eventual camera installation last week, digging trenches and laying conduit for wiring.

Adams does not know when the project will be complete as the cameras remain back-ordered.

This is not the first time the county has installed cameras to deter vandalism, Adams said.

“At the Greenway and multiple park accesses everywhere from East LaPorte or wherever needed, we go through and install these cameras when there are security issues and things of that nature,” Adams said. 

The county’s IT department handles data and reviews footage if there is an incident.