The Myrtle Beach Fire Department will take the lead on water rescues if a new plan is approved by the Beach Advisory Committee, helping to put more police officers on the streets.
During a meeting Wednesday afternoon, Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock presented a plan aimed at utilizing resources in the fire department and lifeguard services after summer 2017 left officers combating multiple shootings.
"Last summer, as you know, was very challenging for the police department with some of the incidents that occurred," Prock said. "In that, our department was challenged with what we can continue to do to assist with continuing to make our public safety a priority."
In order to keep public safety at the forefront, Prock presented a plan that has officers on the sand who will patrol out to Kings Highway. In the past, there have been two officers dedicated to patrolling on the sand.
Under the plan, there will still be two officers who will respond to automobile burglaries at beach accesses, larcenies and beach-related issues. One will be assigned to the north end of the beach and one to the south end.
However, in order to assist the officers, an on-call police marine unit would be established. These officers would respond to calls in areas adjacent to where they are patrolling, and would have access to drive on the beach.
The plan also establishes an on-call dive team for evidence recovery.
"What I want to remind you is that these officers are not being pulled off the beach. We are redeploying, we are absolutely going to be on the beach, just like the fire department's going to be on the beach, just like the lifeguards are going to be on the beach," Prock said.
"We actually have the opportunity, with our waterfront personnel to extend our officers on the beach. They'll have the ability to drive on the beach. I want to ensure that you understand, it is pertinent for you to understand that their area's going to be extended so they can respond and take incident reports," she said.
The changes come after the 2017 season, when there were 1,057 calls for service. Of those calls, 234 were fireworks related and 189 were beach related, meaning ordinance violations. Out of those events, there was one strong armed robbery.
Last year there were no fatalities on the beach.
"This is kind of a better match," City Manager John Pedersen said. "Most of the calls on the beach are a better match for the fire department to respond to than the police department. We're not saying the police department is not going on the beach. That's not going to happen, we're going to do sweeps throughout the day and ensure that we're there."
The fire department's role
Now, the fire department will be first to respond to ocean rescue calls, after the lifeguards. If officials feel they need backup in the rescue they will call in the police department.
"We aren't really changing a whole lot, we just need to make it better and that's what we're looking to do by putting more resources out there," Fire Chief Alvin Payne. "I think it's worked well in the past couple of years, we're just looking to enhance it and put more police officers on the streets."
The department will have four fire units on the beach with one supervisor, with shifts staggered allowing eight officials to be on the beach at any given time.
In order to keep communication flowing, Payne said the department will hire a Beach Front Supervisor. The cost of the position including salary, benefits and a vehicle nears $119,000.
Prock estimated the cost to add additional crews and coverage from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. will cost around $67,000.
The Beach Advisory Committee did not take action on the plan during the meeting, but it will be presented to city council on March 27 meeting.
Pedersen said full fire units will be on the beach starting March 23. If city council approves the plan, it will be effective immediately after.
Here's what the 2018 police redeployment schedule would look like
2018 waterfront day shift:
- The north waterfront shift will run from 21st Avenue North to 6th Avenue South.
- The area will be patrolled from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- The shift will have four officers and two supervisors.
- The south waterfront shift will run from 6th Avenue South to 25th Avenue South.
- The are will be patrolled from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- The shift will have three officers.
2018 waterfront night shift
- The north shift will patrol from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
- It will have 10 officers and two supervisors.
- The south shift will patrol from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m.
- It will have six officers and one supervisor.
- The day shift will run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will have 10 patrol officers, two beach officers and two supervisors.
- The night shift will run from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and will have 10 patrol officers, two beach officers and two supervisors.