Chances are that if you’re active in your Myrtle Beach neighborhood, you know Pete Woods.
The Myrtle Beach crime prevention officer visits 23 neighborhoods each month to update residents on crime trends and calls for services in their area.
His work with the neighborhood watch program earned him the crime prevention officer of the year award from the S.C. Law Enforcement Officers Association for 2013.
“It just felt good,” Woods said of learning he’d won the award in November. “I went from having nine meetings to 23 meetings. So it felt rewarding. … For it to be the whole state of South Carolina – that’s very humbling.”
The Bronx, N.Y., native was a veteran police officer when he moved to Myrtle Beach after he retired from the New York Police Department after 20 years. He moved to Myrtle Beach shortly after his daughter, now 6, was born.
Woods initially applied for clerical jobs with the Myrtle Beach Police Department, but when Chief Warren Gall saw his resume he insisted Woods come on as an officer.
“So at 49 years old I had to do sleep-away police academy with 23-year-olds,” he said. He went to police academy for the first time when he himself was 23 years old.
Woods has been with the Myrtle Beach Police Department for six years, serving the first three patrolling the waterfront area as a bicycle officer before becoming the city’s crime prevention officer.
As coordinator of the city’s neighborhood watch groups, Woods hosts monthly information sessions in any neighborhood that’s expressed an interest in having a group.
“Our model is a police-neighborhood partnership,” Woods said.
Woods said during the monthly group meetings he relays any crime in the neighborhood or in nearby neighborhoods, shares safety tips and fields questions.
Officer Stephani James said Woods’ work ethic and passion to help people is what has not only expanded the number of neighborhood watch groups, but improved relationships between residents and police officers.
“I fill in for him at the meetings sometimes,” she said. “People get upset when he’s not there. He has a rapport with them. … For National Night Out it was like traveling with a rock star. He makes people feel important.”
Diane Dollriehs, property manager at Monticello Park Apartments, worked with Woods in 2011 to establish a neighborhood watch in her development.
“He was really great because he’s very organized,” Dollriehs said. “He’s very insightful. Very driven to help people get to a better situation.”
Dollriehs said the residents appreciate what Woods shares with them.
“He makes them feel safe, but he also is very candid,” she said.
Woods said he likes being able to pass information to residents to help them learn how to be safe in their communities – including those who are only residents for a short time.
After noticing that the international students who come and work in Myrtle Beach in the summer were being targeted and robbed, Woods worked to create an international student orientation to help them get acclimated. This summer will be the third year for the meetings.
In addition to information about personal safety, the meetings include details about banking, activities and transportation, as well as beach safety and bicycle safety.
“After the first year [in 2012], we reduced robberies of international students by 58 percent,” he said. “We reduced them from being crime victims.”
Woods said he knew when he was very young that he wanted to be a police officer.
“Where I come from is a real blue collar, working class part of the Bronx,” he said, adding that many people aspired to work as police officers and firefighters. “I was always attracted to [law enforcement] from 5 years old. You get the chance to play cops and robbers for your whole life.”
Woods said he was at Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists.
“I was there most of the day,” he said reflectively. “But I don’t speak about it. Maybe one day.”
He retired five months later.
Woods then worked at Monroe College in the Bronx teaching criminal justice, and once his daughter was born he decided to move his family to Myrtle Beach.
During his 20 years with the New York Police Department, Woods said he worked in the homicide and robbery units and investigated a lot of major crime. Myrtle Beach, he said, is safer.
“That’s the reason why I’m here,” he said. “That’s why I’m raising two kids here. Can we always do better? Of course. But anyone who tells you they can get rid of crime completely is selling you something. Since time immemorial – since the Bible there has been crime.”