The need for more policing in Myrtle Beach did not start on June 18 when a teenager from North Carolina shot up Ocean Boulevard, but the shooting and its aftermath surely put on exclamation point on the problem.
The problem, by no means unique to Myrtle Beach and other area law enforcement agencies, is much larger than putting more officers on the street during the high tourism season. Along with increasing the number of officers, attracting and retaining quality police officers is a high priority.
Police Chief Amy Prock, along with City Manager John Pedersen, presented a plan that will increase pay of all sworn officers and dispatchers by 1.75 percent and establish merit increases (3 percent) and market-rate adjustments (5 percent.) Starting annual salaries will be $44,000 for certified new officers and $40,000 for uncertified officers.
The new city council is expected to vote on the plan after the first of the year and the new pay schedule would be effective for the city’s first pay period of 2018 on Jan. 12. Mayor-elect Brenda Bethune, who called for increased policing in her campaign which unseated John Rhodes, voiced support for the Prock-Pedersen plan. “When it comes to our public safety, we cannot afford not to fund it properly because the ramifications of not doing so could cost us so much more money.”
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Well put, (soon-to-be) Madam Mayor. She is addressing the disconnect between expectations of public services and how we pay for them. Various taxes fund vital public services, including public safety services such as law enforcement and fire protection.
The increased pay will make the city “competitive with other agencies throughout the state and beyond and I think that we have to do this,” Bethune said. The $44,000 starting salary for certified officers compares to $42,329 in the city of North Myrtle Beach; $41,693 in Charleston; and $36,882 for the Horry County Police Department, which polices the area’s many unincorporated communities such as Carolina Forest and Little River.
The Prock-Pedersen plan undoubtedly will increase the pressure on Horry County Council to examine its pay scale. The Horry department, like the S.C. Highway Patrol, has lost officers to other departments that pay better. The more than $7,000 difference in the City of Myrtle Beach pay will make salary even more of an issue than it has been.
The Myrtle Beach plan includes adding to the force over several years. In 2017, the department had 32 separations and six retirements. Better salaries addresses the problem of losing experienced officers … “there are other agencies out there gobbling them up,” the city manager said.
Some taxpayers will feel the downside is a likely 3.8 percent increase in real estate taxes for city residents. The reaction on social media suggested new revenue from the growing population should cover the additional costs. That’s not the reality because the fact is, growth does not pay for itself. Implicit in demands for more policing, like any public service, should be willingness to pay for it.