Take a close look at plastic coat hooks in women's public bathrooms in the Upper Keys — and the hooks may conceal a tiny camera that is looking back.
"Miniature cameras hidden in coat hooks were found mounted on the walls in the women's restrooms" at three Upper Keys locations in a three-day span, said Deputy Becky Herrin, information officer for the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.
The concealed motion-detector cameras, battery-operated with a small memory card that does not require electrical connections,- were found at the Anne's Beach park in Islamorada on Thursday, the Circle K store at mile marker 99.8 on Key Largo on Saturday and at Harry Harris County Park in Tavernier on Monday.
"Anyone who has a public restroom on their property needs to check them closely," Sheriff Rick Ramsay said.
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"If you find anything suspicious you think might contain a hidden camera, don't touch it. Call us right away and we will respond."
So far, there is no way to know if the three discovered cameras were placed by the same person. "Every piece of evidence we gather can help us in the investigation," Herrin said.
"All the devices found so far look like simple white coat hooks with the camera mounted behind it and utilizing a very small hole in the top portion of the coat hook [base] for the lens of the camera," she said.
The hook-cameras, about five inches tall, are sold through numerous online stores as "home security devices" at prices ranging from $13 to $50.
"With a motion-activated recording device and [memory] card expansion and a built-in rechargeable battery, this hidden camera will look like an ordinary clothing hook and nothing more," says one ad.
More than half the reviews of one style of the hook-camera rated it as poor or useless. "Picture quality is good, not really good, adequate for temporary surveillance," said a review of another brand.
Female officers will be the only people to watch any images taken from cameras seized in the Keys, Herrin said. "Rest assured, we will be very careful with any video that comes into our custody."
The first camera at Anne's Beach was discovered by a Public Works cleaning crew.
A Monroe Sheriff's Office deputy checking Harry Harris Park on Memorial Day asked a department dispatcher to inspect the women's room there. "She checked and found it mounted on the wall," Herrin said. "There's no way to know how long they've been there."
Security cameras also can be concealed in numerous other objects, she noted.
Taylor Orinstein told CBS4 that she grew up going to these parks and hidden cameras are the last thing she’d expect to have to worry about.
“I think it’s disgusting how anyone would even want to have a hook inside a bathroom door,” she said.
Monroe sheriff’s Lt. Alberto Ramirez told the station that his department is hoping to get enough evidence off the cameras to catch the person who put them up.
“Our major crimes unit has assigned a female detective to look at the videos and try to identify the victims and also look at any other evidence that we can use against the suspect,” he said.
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