Myrtle Beach officials hope additional officers, help from other jurisdictions will curb crime on busy weekends

mprabhu@thesunnews.comMay 29, 2014 

For the past year, Myrtle Beach City Council members have said they wanted more police officers patrolling the city’s waterfront area and south end, and some say the need is more evident after a series of shootings last weekend that killed three people.

City Council on Tuesday passed first reading of a budget that increases property taxes 3 mills to 69.1 to pay for 10 additional sworn officers. Budget director Michael Shelton said the 3 mill increase would bring in an estimated $900,000 in revenue next fiscal year.

Councilman Wayne Gray said that money would pay for the salary, benefits, equipment and training for 10 officers.

Chief Warren Gall asked council members during an April budget retreat for an additional 20 officers. The city has 193 certified positions on its police force and there are 171 officers on the streets, police spokesman Capt. David Knipes said. Another 10 officers are in training and 12 officers are in the hiring process. There are no openings.

Officers would be assigned to the downtown waterfront area where council members say the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk has increased the number of people visiting that part of town. Officers also would be assigned to the city’s south end, where the number of residents moving into properties on the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base has steadily grown.

If City Council passes second reading of the budget ordinance, which could take place as soon as June 10, there would be 203 sworn officers in Myrtle Beach. City Council members will hold a workshop at 9 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall to discuss details of the budget.

“If all goes as well as it can, there will be 30 more officers on the streets by this time next year,” Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means said.

Council members, residents and city officials are looking for ways to make sure that Myrtle Beach is safe after a violent Memorial Day weekend during which five confirmed shootings along Ocean Boulevard left three people dead and seven injured. No arrests had been made in the any of the incidents as of Wednesday evening.

Knipes said having more police officers on the streets is always a way to tamp down crime.

“Ten additional officers would have been a start,” he said of last weekend. “The more officers you have the more area you can cover.”

All of the city’s officers worked last weekend, and 220 officers from other agencies also were in town to help.

Knipes said police and city officials will discuss what can be done to maintain control of downtown Myrtle Beach on weekends when there are large crowds in town. During Memorial Day weekend, thousands were along the Grand Strand for the Atlantic Beach BikeFest and Military Appreciation Days.

“I would assume there will be changes made,” Knipes said.

Council members said they’re not sure what changes need to be made to ensure people are safe, but that they know they’ll need help.

Mayor John Rhodes, Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus and North Myrtle Beach Mayor Marilyn Hatley all said they plan to meet with Gov. Nikki Haley on Friday while she is in town to discuss hurricane preparedness. Atlantic Beach Mayor Jake Evans said he’s not sure if he will be able to attend, but someone from the town is expected to be there as well.

“We’re going to meet with Gov. Haley for a few minutes and figure out a time when we can go to Columbia and discuss how we can get a handle on this,” Rhodes said. “We have to sit down and lay out what the city can do, and we’re going to need help from the state level.”

S.C. lawmakers have extended their support to Myrtle Beach and said they will offer whatever state resources the city needs to get things under control.

Councilman Michael Chestnut said he believed the city may not have been prepared for the number of people who came to town during Memorial Day weekend.

“The bottom line is I think we were just overwhelmed by the number of people and we were down that number of officers,” he said of the 22 vacant positions on the force. “Those are things that we’re working on and we’ll find out how to address the issues.”

While the BikeFest event is centered 13 miles north in the four-block town of Atlantic Beach, and Myrtle Beach is not affiliated with any official biker events, Chestnut said a number of people come to town to party.

“I don’t think Atlantic Beach has any control over this thing,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest problem. There’s no one who’s in charge of this thing. There’s no head to the body. It’s completely unorganized. People just come to town and everyone does their own thing.”

About 30 people addressed City Council during its Tuesday afternoon meeting, expressing their frustration and anger over the weekend’s events.

Bill Garofalo told City Council members they should look to Atlanta for the measures taken to get its Freaknik event under control. Freaknik was a spring break event held in Atlanta in the 1980s and 1990s for students from historically black colleges and universities.

“If they stopped it, you can stop it here,” he said. “Either stop it completely or enforce every law on the books ... and maybe the thugs will stay away.”

Chestnut said he agreed that rules need to be put in place to discourage criminal activity.

“No, we can’t tell anybody they can’t come,” he said. “But there can be rules in place that will be strictly enforced. And we need the manpower to enforce them. ... And they will be rules that will be enforced 365 days a year, not just one weekend.”

Speakers told City Council members Tuesday that too many of those in town for Memorial Day weekend had no respect for the law, ranging from blocking Ocean Boulevard for about 45 minutes and turning it into a street party and escalating to homicide.

Three people were gunned down Saturday night at Bermuda Sands Resort on First Avenue North.

Officers responded at about 11 p.m. Saturday to a reported large fight outside the Bermuda Sands. Shots were fired before police arrived, striking one man. As police were providing medical attention to the man, those involved in the fight moved to the second floor of Bermuda Sands, according to police.

After about five minutes, officers said the shooter then went to the second floor of the hotel and fired several shots at two men and a woman, who police say were involved in the fight.

Police believe the shooter fled the rear of the hotel.

On Saturday, another person was injured in a shooting at Sixth Avenue South and Ocean Boulevard, two were injured in a shooting at Eighth Avenue North and Ocean Boulevard and one was shot in the leg at the Fountainbleau Inn at Seventh Avenue North and Flagg Street.

On Sunday, two were injured in a shooting at the Wave Rider Resort at 1600 South Ocean Boulevard.

Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or on Twitter @TSN_mprabhu.

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