Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce hopes to help pay for more officers in May 2015

akelley @thesunnews.com, mprabhu@thesunnews.comJune 3, 2014 

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce plans to help pay for more law enforcement for May 2015 following eight confirmed shootings during Memorial Day weekend that left three people dead and seven others injured, according to information released Tuesday.

The chamber is working with local and state officials to amend its budget and redirect accommodations tax revenues and other tourism promotion funds to hire more law enforcement for May next year. Using those funds would require amending state law.

State legislators are considering a proposed budget amendment that would allow up to one third of accommodations tax returned to Horry County – or municipalities in Horry County – be set aside to pay for public safety during events held in May. Another proposed amendment would allow up to one third of destination specific funds that are allocated to the chamber also could be used to pay public safety.

In the 2014-2015 fiscal year budget, Myrtle Beach is expecting to receive $7.9 million in accommodations tax funds. For the past several years, the chamber has received $6 million of the $12 million the state budgets for destination specific funds, according to Chamber President Brad Dean.

That means the city potentially could have more $4 million available to help pay for law enforcement in May 2015.

Dean said he envisions cities and the county could use that money to offset expenses – such as pay, travel or lodging – in bringing officers in from other communities to assist local police in May.

“A significant number of additional law enforcement will be needed, whether that’s in-state or out-of-state or private security,” Myrtle Beach City Councilman Wayne Gray said.

A bill is working its way through the S.C. General Assembly that would allow certified law-enforcement officers to enforce laws in the state.

Rep. Tracy Edge, R-North Myrtle Beach, said he anticipates officers from major cities such as Atlanta and Washington, D.C., being asked to help in May.

“Law-enforcement agencies in major metropolitan areas have expertise in crowd control and have horse-mounted police and other equipment that enhances their knowledge and expertise in law and order within a crowded area,” he said. “These type [of] measures have never been considered for our area but must now be considered due to the level and nature of crime that we now have upon us during Memorial weekend.”

Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said last week that local and state officials would work together to establish steps to ensure the violence seen Memorial Day weekend did not happen again.

“As you can see, we’re not sitting still,” he said. “We said we were going to get some things done and this is just the first step.”

Myrtle Beach police Capt. David Knipes said he could not comment specifically on the chamber’s plans because had not seen the email Tuesday afternoon or heard about redirecting funds to hire more officers.

But, Knipes said more officers would help.

“More officers are helpful in any situation,” he said. “Not necessarily in just a Harley or BikeFest, but every day.”

Myrtle Beach, along with North Myrtle Beach, had additional officers from 22 agencies across the state in town during BikeFest. City officers logged the most overtime hours since 2009 during Memorial Day weekend with 5,447 hours according to statistics released Tuesday.

There were 4,045 calls for police service, the most since 4,472 calls in 2007. Myrtle Beach police also reported more weapons offenses, drug possessions or sales and homicides this year than on Memorial Day weekend over the last 10 years, with 24 weapon related charges, 65 drug possession or sales and the three homicides. The last time there was a homicide Memorial Day weekend was in 2008.

The chamber’s plans to redirect funds come after eight confirmed shootings, including one on May 24 that left three people dead, in Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day weekend.

“What we witnessed during the Memorial Day weekend was tragic and unacceptable. We as a community must find ways to combat this problem and ensure that this type of lawlessness will no longer be tolerated. That is going to require a substantial increase in law enforcement, Dean said.

“We will continue to be a staunch advocate for the promotion of tourism in the Myrtle Beach area and will remain focused on ensuring the safety of all visitors. But in this instance, we are choosing to do our part to help stop criminals and felons from putting a damper on what should be a weekend to celebrate our military heroes, and serve as the kickoff to the summer vacation season. It is my hope that other business organizations and community-based groups will step up to this challenge and join the effort.”

Myrtle Beach police have said the triple fatal shooting at the Bermuda Sands Resort on First Avenue North was the result of possible gang activity and have not made a link between the shooting and BikeFest.

Jamie Williams, 28, of Ladson, and Devonte Dantzler, 21,of Summerville died on the scene. Sandy Gaddis Barnwell, 22, of Summerville was pronounced dead later at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center. A fourth person, Keith Williams of Lincolnville, was injured in the shooting. Seven others were injured by gunfire that weekend.

Gov. Nikki Haley on Friday called for the end of the annual event hosted by Atlantic Beach, but town officials said Monday they have no intentions of stopping the motorcycle event which has been held since the early 1980s.

Atlantic Beach Mayor Jake Evans said Monday that city officials have not yet met with representatives from other municipalities or the governor, but they hope to soon.

“We don’t plan to end Bikefest, we plan to work together and see how we can make it better and get rid of the bad elements of it,” Evans said. “Anytime there’s 300,000 people here on the Grand Strand you’re going to have people who are not following orders and doing what they’re supposed to be doing. We just have to come together and control that part of it.”

In North Myrtle Beach, one man addressed City Council Monday saying something needs to change with BikeFest and last week residents filled council chambers in Myrtle Beach expressing concerns about the event. Many said they felt threatened by the people in town Memorial Day weekend.

But ending Bikefest is not something Atlantic Beach officials plan to consider, not only because it’s the town’s main money-maker, but because of the tradition.

“There are hundreds of thousands of festival goers who obey the laws, enjoy Bikefest, respect others respect the laws,” Evans said. “And I would hate us to just turn those people away for the percentage who are not abiding by the laws. ... This Bikefest means more to us as a tradition just as much as it is the money.”

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