Most Horry County residents feel secure in their neighborhoods, but many do not have that same sense of safety in the rest of the county, according to a recent survey.
Although respondents overwhelmingly indicated that maintaining a safe community is important — and nearly nine in 10 said they feel secure in their neighborhoods — just 48 percent expressed a positive view about the overall safety of the county.
The results of the survey didn’t come as a surprise to Horry County leaders. Public safety emerged as one of the most debated subjects during the recent Myrtle Beach City Council elections. It’s also the primary issue in the race for Horry County Council District 3.
“The No. 1 thing would be public safety,” said County Councilman Bill Howard, who reviewed the survey results last week. “You’ve got to have that before you can have anything.”
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The No. 1 thing would be public safety. You’ve got to have that before you can have anything.
Horry County Councilman Bill Howard
County officials are using the survey as part of their strategic planning process. Survey requests went out to about 3,000 homes and more than a quarter of those asked to participate did so, officials said.
Residents of both the municipalities and the unincorporated areas answered questions about the “livability” of the county. The National Citizen Survey focused on eight areas: safety, mobility, natural environment, built environment, economy, recreation and wellness, community engagement and education.
Residents ranked public safety, the economy and mobility as the most important issues.
When asked about the overall feeling of safety in the county, 14 percent of residents answered “poor,” 38 percent said “fair,” 39 percent said “good” and 9 percent responded with “excellent.”
Most residents didn’t give the county positive marks in crime prevention and animal control. Of those surveyed, 42 percent said the county did excellent or good in those areas.
The county’s overall safety ratings were lower than many of the other communities that have taken the same survey.
Where the county received the strongest public safety responses was in service: 71 percent said the police do a good or excellent job, 85 percent gave the firefighters positive marks and 83 percent spoke highly of EMS workers.
The survey also showed that 83 percent of those who responded had not been the victim of a crime and 88 percent said they felt safe in their neighborhoods.
Jon Pierce, a consultant assisting county leaders with their planning efforts, cautioned that national media reports about crime can lead residents to believe their community is more dangerous than it actually is.
“There’s a lot of data that suggests it’s not just driven by what’s happening in Horry County,” said Pierce, a consultant with the Riley Center for Livable Communities at the College of Charleston. “It’s driven by what you see on the national news related to crime. Your crime rate could be very low, and the perception of safety may not reflect the actual numbers because of ... the picture that’s being painted by the national media.”
Although no data was presented during the retreat, council members stressed that some crime rates are improving.
“It’s going down,” Howard said. “It’s getting better.”
Council members, however, acknowledged that the county is facing challenges linked to crime.
Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said the homeless population is creating headaches for local officials. He said a business owner in the Five Points section of Myrtle Beach locks the doors during regular hours to keep the homeless out. He blamed some of those problems on the lack of mental health facilities.
“It’s not just here,” he said. “That’s a national epidemic that we have. ... They don’t have anywhere to go. So where do they go? They go on the street.”
“It generates a lot of crime,” said County Administrator Chris Eldridge.
Along with a large homeless community, the county is also grappling with an increase in gang activity, said Police Chief Saundra Rhodes.
She said some families are moving to the Grand Strand from larger cities and their children are bringing their gang connections with them.
“That contributes to the heightened gang population that we have here,” she said.
The consultants are working with the county to develop goals and strategies for dealing with those problems, including benchmarks to measure success.
The county is paying $14,300 for the consulting services.