You may want to think twice if you’re about to shout a four-letter word at someone while walking down Myrtle Beach’s Ocean Boulevard.
Those who get caught publicly using profanity in the City of Myrtle Beach could be taken to jail or issued a citation.
The lewd, obscene and profane language ordinance — a misdemeanor — falls under the city’s disorderly conduct offense.
The charge factors in context — using the unlawful language toward another person — and the language being said in public places.
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Lt. Bryan Murphy with Myrtle Beach Police Department said a person would violate the ordinance if he or she uses language to “provoke a violent reaction from another person.”
“We encourage everyone to avoid violating this ordinance by speaking to others with the same respect and kindness you deserve,” Murphy said.
The offense plainly states a person should not make, utter or direct any lewd, obscene or profane words toward another person. Those words include “libelous expletive” or “fighting” words.
The city brought in $22,161 last year from profane language citations, according to information from a Freedom of Information Act request by The Sun News. With 289 tickets issued, each averaged about $77.
City of Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea said the goal behind ordinances and laws is not the fine.
“It’s not the ticket,” he said. “It’s compliance. The goal is to have folks obey whatever rules, ordinance that any government puts in place.”
In reference to the profane language charge, behavior, actions and words “can get out of hand,” Kruea said.
“There is an expectation of a certain amount of propriety in a public place,” he said.
“People get excited from time to time,” Kruea said. “There are limits, I think, to how excited one can be and how much expressive behavior one can share with the public without infringing on somebody else’s right.”
Capt. John Harrelson with Horry County Police Department said the county does not have a similar ordinance specific to profane language, but officers do utilize the public disorderly conduct or common law breach of peace statutes.
Both of those are state laws, Harrelson said, and, in certain circumstances, can involve lewd language as part of the crime.
How the charge comes about
Myrtle Beach police stopped a vehicle just after 4 a.m. Aug. 7 after noticing it had a tail light out, according to an incident report.
The suspect allegedly had marijuana — which officers could smell coming from the vehicle — and he was detained, authorities said. After searching the vehicle, police placed the suspect under arrest and told him the vehicle would be towed, a report said.
“He became irate and started using multiple profanities and thrashing his body around,” the report reads. “He had to be restrained by two officers.”
The suspect was taken to jail and cited for simple possession of marijuana and disorderly conduct/lewd language, the report said.
Where does fine money go?
The lewd language charge is one of many charges that brings the city thousands of dollars each year.
Kruea said fine money goes into the city’s general fund, which can be used for departments including water and sewer, recreation, law enforcement.
The city’s budget is almost $200 million this year. Putting into perspective the money the city received from profane language fines last year, the amount is less than the cost of a police officer, Kruea said.
“It’s a fairly small fine when you consider the maximum penalty for a misdemeanor is a $500 fine or 30 days in jail,” he said.
Last year, the city made $19,356 from its racing engines ordinance. Those tickets averaged about $176. The offense states it’s illegal for anyone to race the engine of any type of motor vehicle while the vehicle isn’t in motion, unless it’s necessary for repairing, adjusting or testing the engine.
|Disorderly conduct - lewd, obscene, profane language||$16,423||$17,073||$22,161|
|Sleeping or laying down on the boardwalk||$530||$1,616||$1,575|
It’s also against city ordinance to sleep or recline on the boardwalk. But it is OK if you’re experiencing a medical emergency, participating in a parade or event or sitting on a public chair or bench supplied by the city or private property owner.
Twenty-six fines were issued last year for sleeping or lying down on the boardwalk. Kruea said the city has spent time and effort on the boardwalk, and it’s a special public place.
“It is a place where we consciously invite visitors and locals to enjoy themselves,” he said. “You want to give folks a guideline about what is acceptable behavior.”
Many of the ordinances have been in place for decades, Kruea said.
“You’re trying to legislate behavior, which is a tough thing to do,” he said. “You’re trying to establish what’s acceptable and what’s not and provide that guidance for the public.”
Hannah Strong: 843-444-1765, @HannahLStrong