Horry County officials are using a property tax increase to hire more police officers and prosecutors this year, but it won’t necessarily mean a drop in crime or criminal activity, officials said.
Horry County Council voted in June to increase property taxes by 7.2 mills to add $13.5 million to the budget. That money is mostly being used for the additional public safety positions.
Crime is a tremendously complicated story and we in society are often unfairly putting too much of the emphasis on police for crime rates.
Seth W. Stoughton, an assistant professor of law at the University of South Carolina
Horry County officials approved adding two court security officers, four violent crime detectives, three gang unit detectives, body cameras and storage for that footage for all the Horry County Police officers. The additions will increase the gang investigator unit to four people and the detectives addtions to the criminal investigations of major crimes unit to a total of 18.
The two court security officers will boost the Horry County Sheriff’s numbers to 21 at the Horry County Judicial Center, Sgt. Sherri Smith said. Those officers check people as they enter the courthouse and maintain security and decorum inside the courtrooms during all proceedings.
The money also will pay for two entry-level prosecutors at the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, and pay increases for all county employees, including a 5 percent increase for all 234 Class 1 police officers.
Last budget year, Myrtle Beach City Council increased its taxes to generate an extra $900,000 in revenue to hire 10 full-time police officers, who were on the streets by May for Memorial Day weekend. With Horry County’s tax increase that makes the second tax increase in as many years for Myrtle Beach city residents.
Seth W. Stoughton, an assistant law professor at the University of South Carolina, said numerous studies have been done on the impact of police officers in a department and what effect, if any, it has on crime in that city.
“They are generally consistent that the number of police officers does have some measurable effect on crime, but exactly what that effect is varies from location to location,” said Seth W. Stoughton, an assistant professor of law at the University of South Carolina. “It’s impossible to predict with any degree of certainty what the effect will have or the impact of the types of crime will be.”
Having more police officers and updated infrastructure certainly helps agencies from having to restrict their services.
Seth W. Stoughton, an assistant professor of law at the University of South Carolina
North Myrtle Beach police ranks have been consistent for about the last 12 years, said Pat Dowling, city spokesman. The city has 77 police officers, but currently is down six officers because of retirements and normal attrition.
The city is seeking to fill the vacant positions, Dowling said.
“We are able to meet the needs of the city as it is currently configured and populated. Additional fire/rescue personnel are also cross-trained, mostly to the level of Class 3 police officers with limited powers of arrest or special duties,” Dowling said. “They can be used at times in certain situations to free up our Class 1 police officers to focus on their work.”
Horry County Police Lt. Raul Denis said Class 1 officers are fully certified with no restrictions, while Class 3 officers are limited duty officers with restrictions on the law enforcement tasks they perform. Typically, Class 3 officers are working with the animal control and airport police divisions, he said.
But the impact of adding police and their effectiveness on crime rates is an unfair comparison, Stoughton said.
“Crime rates and homicide rates are not good to use to evaluate police performance. A whole range of things have some impact on crime and it’s often the case that a police department or a police chief or a sheriff is reprimanded or castigated when crime increases even though the factors that lead to the increase have nothing to do with the police,” Stoughton said.
“Crime is a tremendously complicated story and we in society are often unfairly putting too much of the emphasis on police for crime rates. There’s lots of things having more police can do ... it can give those officers opportunities to go and make meaningful community contacts and in the long run that may have a dramatic impact on crime rates and the community’s satisfaction with the police department.”
100,000 police reports a year in Horry County
Denis said officials are hoping to improve their services to the community with the new hires, which are the first new positions in several years.
“We have been playing catch-up for a long time and we are still playing catch-up. Our caseload has gone up tremendously; we’re upwards of a 100,000 reports a year and in order to effectively work that number of cases you need more people to do it,” Denis said and noted when an officer writes a report a detective is assigned to investigate it. “Unfortunately, we may never have the resources to investigate everything we’d like to investigate, so we have to prioritize how we handle our cases, which that’s where the problems begin. When there’s a murder it’s all hands on deck, so every detective has to drop what they’re doing.”
Several homicides in the Longs area earlier this year stretched detectives in their work on other cases, Denis said.
“Our violent crime detectives were not able to stay up on their assigned caseload. I think things have managed to stabilize now,” Denis said. “Obviously more people are going to help, but I don’t think it’s going to be something that will be drastically noticed throughout the department. Because we’re not getting a very large number of people, we’re just getting a few.”
Steady population growth can impact police departments and other public safety services if planning doesn’t occur to keep services on track to deal with the increases in the number of permanent residents and businesses with population and business development, Stoughton said.
“A growing population means a growing array of duties for the police department and the officers,” Stoughton said. “It can be easy for a police agency to be overwhelmed by increasing demands if they do not invest in new infrastructure and officers such as more vehicles or radio system that covers their call area.”
8,400 the number of cases annually Horry County prosecutors deal with on average
Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said he’s glad County Council members agreed to add two entry-level prosecutors to his office. He hopes next year more state funding will be available to increase staffing in his office, which serves Horry and Georgetown counties.
The solicitor’s office will add the prosecutors to the General Session cases, increasing their staffing to 14 lawyers who handle an average of 8,400 cases annually.
“The funnel at the top always gets bigger, but the spigot at the bottom stays the same,” said Scott Hixson, deputy solicitor.
In Horry County for the fiscal year 2013 to 2014, prosecutors handled 8,404 cases with 15 prosecutors, while other circuits such as Richland County handled 8,829 cases with 38 prosecutors, Richardson said. In Charleston County, those numbers were 8,475 cases with 32 prosecutors and in Greenville County they had 14,533 cases with 34 prosecutors.
“Looking at Charleston and Richland counties, we are running at half staff with them. We’re not asking for anything like that,” Richardson said.
Officials have interviewed 15 people for the two positions, Richardson said. For those new positions, Richardson said he’s asking them to stay for at least three years to learn the workings of the system and provide stability in the office.
“We believe our job is to make them very good attorneys and we ask them for three years. That gives us the best of both worlds with stability, but you do need some turnover, you need some new blood coming in,” Richardson said. “Our whole goal is to protect the citizens of Horry and Georgetown counties and in doing that we want to create the best attorneys ... while they are here we want them working and productive.”
The new hires won’t be specializing on any cases like the prosecutor who handles child abuse and sex crimes or the prosecutor that focuses on violent crimes like homicides, Richardson said. The new hires instead will focus on General Sessions cases such as thefts, larcenies, non-violent robberies, and non-deadly assaults.
“Every day you can shave off [a defendant] sitting in our local jail ... saves them from having to guard them and feed them,” Richardson said. “The job of the state is to represent every citizen of the state. We have to make sure everybody is treated fairly and the cases move through fairly and in a timely fashion.”
To apply for a position, go to Horry County’s website at horrycounty.org and click employment.
By the numbers
For the fiscal year 2013-2014:
▪ Horry County prosecutors handled 8,404 cases with 15 prosecutors
▪ Richland County handled 8,829 cases with 38 prosecutors
▪ Charleston County handled 8,475 cases with 32 prosecutors
▪ Greenville County had 14,533 cases with 34 prosecutors