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Myrtle Beach Rotary Club to present 50th Officer of the Year award

A Myrtle Beach police officer will soon be recognized for their outstanding efforts when they are awarded the Rotary Club of Myrtle Beach Officer Joe McGarry Memorial Police Officer of the Year Award, which will also be the club’s 50th police of the year award.

The award will be presented to one of eight nominees at a ceremony at 12:30 p.m. Monday at the Ocean Reef Resort in Myrtle Beach.

“It is a very, very important thing for us to do for the community because not only do they protect the citizenry, but they protect the tourist that are here on vacation, and if this wasn’t a safe place, people wouldn’t come here for vacation, and really we wouldn’t have the Myrtle Beach we have today,” Rigby Wilson, immediate past president of Myrtle Beach Rotary Club and former chair of officer of the year committee, said.

Myrtle Beach was a much smaller town in 1967 when the Rotary Club first choose to recognize a police officer’s work for the previous year of service, Wilson said.

“It’s been wonderful that the Rotary has the history of recognizing police officers for what they do, not only the winner of police officer of the year, but also the nominees that are nominated each year,” Wilson said.

About six to 12 nominees are selected by fellow Myrtle Beach police officers each year, and all nominees interview with the Rotary Club’s award’s committee, typically in just one day each spring, and the winner is announced at an awards ceremony, which is the Monday closest to May 1.

“Deciding who gets the award that year is an extremely tough decision because they all have merits and many times it’s actual heroic activity. Sometimes it’s someone who’s just done a very, very good job with something and has flown under the radar and hasn’t been recognized, but somehow everything that they touch works out beautifully,” Wilson said.

Last year’s winner was PFC Chris Smith, who was an eight-year veteran on the force. Smith is a member of the Myrtle Beach Police Department’s street crime unit and is also a K9 officer who hopes to grow the department’s K9 team.

He was also recognized for his work in the arrest of two people in connection with four armed robberies last year.

Other officers nominated last year included: Cpl. Jeremiah Beam, Investigator Lester Cook, PFC Shon McCluskey, PFC Stephen Andrew Thackray, PFC Christopher Tyndall and Cpl. Tiffany Whitmire.

“It’s interesting to see over the years all the different people who have been officer of the year,” Matt Sedota, Myrtle Beach Rotary Club past president and current officer of the year committee member, said.

He said patrolman, detectives, and an undercover officer – who had completed his undercover work at the time of the award – have all received the honor in the past, along with other men and women from different levels and lengths of service within the police department.

“It’s an amazing process,” Sedota said of interviewing the nominees to select the winner.

“Anybody who has any negative impressions of the police department, if they spent time chatting with these nominees as we have done, it changes it completely. You really see how hard they work and how they’re trying to just be great in this community.”

“We were always so impressed by each year’s list of candidates that were nominated that it really was inspiring to be around all these folks,” Craig Hogan, who is retired, but formerly chaired and served on the award’s committee for roughly ten years up until about 2012, said.

Hogan said he revamped the ceremony when he got involved, shining a brighter spotlight on the nominees and the police department as a whole.

The award’s title changed when the committee chose to add the name of fallen Myrtle Beach police Officer Joe McGarry to its name shortly after he was killed in the line of duty on Dec. 29, 2002, when he was shot while questioning a suspect.

The Rotary Club chose to include his name on the award to honor and memorialize him and also to recognize those who put themselves in harm’s way.

“We felt like it called attention to how dangerous their job is,” Hogan said, and added McGarry’s name was put on the award also to give him and his family a lasting memorial.

Police said the fact that the award is named for McGarry makes receiving it an additional honor to them.

“It’s a very prestigious award, and we feel honored to receive it,” Warren Gall, Myrtle Beach police chief, said.

“We look forward to the banquet each year. … It’s a special time of year for us. We’re grateful for the opportunity to recognize officers for their hard work and dedication,” Lt. Joey Crosby, spokesman with Myrtle Beach police, said.

Elizabeth Townsend: 843-626-0217, @TSN_etownsend

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