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Atlantic Beach, SLED could team up on drugs

The chief of the State Law Enforcement Division met Thursday with the leaders of the tiny coastal town of Atlantic Beach to discuss a possible new partnership to stave off drug crime there during the coming summer months.

"Our plan is to be much more aggressive around the state, particularly when it comes to narcotics and violent-crime issues," said SLED Director Reggie Lloyd.

Lloyd traveled to Atlantic Beach for the informal meeting with the town's new attorney, Steve Benjamin of Columbia, a friend of his since law school. Sitting in the town's community center, Lloyd listened as Councilman Donnell Thompson, Police Chief Randy Rizzo and Town Manager Kenneth McIver described how Atlantic Beach's drug trade has mostly subsided.

"These guys are getting it done," Thompson said of the town's police. "People that live here say, 'It's better than it was when I first came.'"

In recent months, the town's four officers have been targeting individual street-level dealers, jailing them for short periods on minor charges to get them off the streets, and sometimes calling in the 15th Circuit Drug Enforcement Unit for larger stings, town officials said. Meanwhile, McIver and the Town Council have been pressuring property owners to demolish old buildings that served as magnets for drug activity and closing businesses where drug dealers congregated - including one store where crack cocaine was being sold "right over the counter, like it was a transaction for bread," Rizzo said.

Those efforts have been largely successful at driving what was once an open-air trade indoors and out of town, officials said. At the same time, they said major drug suppliers are likely waiting for the summer customer base before they deploy new dealers.

Atlantic Beach's police force consists of Rizzo and three officers, who work two officers at a time on 12-hour shifts. When they are off duty, Horry County police officers respond to crimes in progress in the town.

Lloyd said budget cuts to his agency would prevent SLED from placing a permanent officer in the town. Long-term drug investigations, however, are the type of work he said SLED agents specialize in.

Mayor Retha Pierce and Councilwoman Charlene Taylor each also stopped in for parts of the meeting.

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