With the unexpected announced retirement of Warren Gall in Myrtle Beach, and now Phil Webster in North Myrtle Beach, area police departments are experiencing an unusually high turnover rate for their top law enforcement officers.
Gall and Webster served their cities and residents as law enforcement officers for many years, 37 for Gall and 25 for Webster, who has been chief of police for three and a half years. Gall was the Myrtle Beach chief for 20 years, a remarkable tenure in a difficult job that is subject to various political mechanisms, particularly in an election year.
Gall’s announced retirement, or at least the timing, came as a surprise. In the wee hours of a Saturday, Gall sent an email to the Myrtle Beach police department announcing his retirement. “The City intends to pursue a new direction, so I will respect that decision and step aside,” Gall wrote. In the email, he praised the work of his department, saying “I leave with a great sense of pride in this family.”
Gall’s last day in office was May 25, immediately before the Memorial Day weekend, perhaps the most hectic time of the year for area law enforcement. Gall will be a consultant to the city until November. Gall declined to say any more about his departure. Assistant Chief Amy Prock, a veteran of the department, is the interim chief.
City Manager John Pedersen acknowledged he’d talked to Gall “about his retirement and about his exit strategy.” Pedersen had only praise for Gall, saying “the chief is a consummate professional, and I don’t know anyone with higher integrity and better character. He has done great work for the city.”
The manager said talking to Gall about retirement “is entirely my decision” and he had not had specific direction on the matter from City Council.
In North Myrtle Beach, Webster evidently set the timing of his retirement, on June 16.
“I began contemplating my future with the department over a year ago,” he said. “I have considered my choices and made a decision that will be best for my family and me.”
North Myrtle Beach will start searching for a new chief in the fall. Public Safety Director Jay Fernandez will handle the police chief duties until a new chief is named.
There is some contrast in the two departures, with North Myrtle Beach having considerably more transparency on why the chief is leaving. Gall’s departure reminds us of the replacement in 2016 of Horry County Police Department chief Saundra Rhodes. She resigned in a near blackout of information, although reportorial digging showed she received a buyout deal that qualified her for retirement. Joseph Hill is the current Horry County chief.
Following the resignation of the Surfside Beach chief, Rodney Keziah, in February, that municipality also has an interim chief, Kenneth Hofmann, adding to the ongoing changes of command in Horry County police departments. Four openings in the top positions in a year or so point to the changing landscape of fast-growing Horry County. More people inexorably means more crime, more traffic problems – and more demands on law enforcement.
The changes in command, additional demands and new directions should come with utmost transparency. That can happen with appropriate sensitivity to the personal lives of those involved.