Crime

Crime in North Myrtle Beach trending downward overall despite rash of robberies

Police from multiple agencies are blocking off roads South and East of Hwy. 90 in an effort to capture the suspect in the robbery of the South State Bank on Main Street in North Myrtle Beach. Wednesday, May 4, 2016.
Police from multiple agencies are blocking off roads South and East of Hwy. 90 in an effort to capture the suspect in the robbery of the South State Bank on Main Street in North Myrtle Beach. Wednesday, May 4, 2016. jlee@thesunnews

Despite a recent rash of robberies and a fatal shooting, North Myrtle Beach authorities say crime overall on the north end of the Grand Strand is holding steady compared with last year, and it’s mainly on a downward trend over the past three years altogether even though the city is growing.

So far in 2016, there have been 11 robberies in North Myrtle Beach, which is up from the seven reported this time last year, but officials and police say that about four of those robberies appear to be related.

“I don’t think robbery in general is up. I think several persons may have decided to commit three or four robberies together over a short span of time, became emboldened with their temporary success, and now may well be facing a very long time in prison for their efforts,” Pat Dowling, North Myrtle Beach spokesman, said via email Friday.

I don’t think robbery in general is up. I think several persons may have decided to commit three or four robberies together over a short span of time, became emboldened with their temporary success, and now may well be facing a very long time in prison for their efforts.

Pat Dowling, North Myrtle Beach spokesman

North Myrtle Beach police are continuing to investigate a string of robberies at area businesses that started around the end of April and have been ongoing through this month, and a pattern of evidence suggests the incidents involve the same suspects, authorities said.

In addition to these possibly-related business robberies, the community was put on edge May 4 after three masked suspects armed with guns stormed into South State Bank on Main Street in North Myrtle Beach, firing shots, forcing victims to the ground, and demanding cash, then leading police on a bullet-riddled chase and a nine-hour manhunt that eventually led to the capture of all suspects.

Lance Roderick Hardiman, 24, of Longs, along with Rodrick Leland Berklery and Justin Alexander Pressley, both 25 and of Little River, face 40 charges, collectively, ranging from bank robbery and kidnapping to attempted murder, records show.

On the heels of that incident, two teens were arrested following an armed robbery May 6 on the beach involving a woman robbed of her purse after the flashing of a wrench and gun and a high-speed car and foot chase with North Myrtle Beach police.

Sierra Noella Swinton, 17, and Carl Lee Carmean, 18, both of Little River each face multiple charges in connection with the incident that North Myrtle Beach officials dubbed a “copycat crime,” encouraged by the previous bank robbery.

Zachary Paul Owens, 25, of Little River was arrested May 7 after 26-year-old Ryan Burt of Lexington was shot to death, and police say Owens admitted to the May 6 shooting of Burt, who Owens claimed was attacking him near a North Myrtle Beach restaurant.

Despite these spasms of recent violence, North Myrtle Beach authorities say crime rates overall for 2016 seem to be roughly holding steady with numbers from last year, and that crime overall is mainly on a downward trend for the area when looking at the past three years.

“I think things are pretty much flat, or the same, or either trending down, and it’s been that way for a number of years,” Chief Phillip Webster with North Myrtle Beach police said when asked how crime rates were looking in 2016.

A total of 3,384 offenses were reported in 2013, a total of 3,224 in 2014, and a slumping total number of 2,974 offenses in 2015, according to data released by officials Friday.

Burglary was down from 282 incidents in 2013 to a reported 235 incidents in 2015. The number of criminal sexual assaults dropped from a reported number of 18 in 2013 to 14 in 2014, and then leapt a little with 15 reported in 2015, the data shows.

A total of 308 car break-ins were reported in 2013, a sharp spike of 372 in 2014, then down to 311 in 2015, numbers show.

“Any crime is too much crime, but I would rather it be trending down or being at a flat level knowing that we are increasing our population and city size,” Webster said.

Other crimes such as kidnapping, drug violations and weapons violations have seen subtle increases from 2013 to 2015, but not steep jumps and have roughly held steady, according to data.

“We’re expanding very quickly up here, and we’re trying to hold on to that small town feel and that level of service that our citizens have grown accustom to over the years,” Webster said.

We’re expanding very quickly up here, and we’re trying to hold on to that small town feel and that level of service that our citizens have grown accustom to over the years.

Chief Phillip Webster with North Myrtle Beach police

While the population of North Myrtle Beach expands and the city size spreads, Webster said that calls for police service, the number of written tickets and arrests are not sharply climbing either, and he says that’s partly because of quality patrolman and strong police/citizen relationships.

“I would like to think it’s attributed to our officers we have on the street and our partnerships with the community,” Webster said. “We have a very, very tight relationship with our community.”

North Myrtle Beach officers are strongly encouraged to build relationships with citizens, Webster said.

“It’s a partnership, because we certainly couldn’t do it by ourselves,” he said, adding that he and the department felt very grateful for the outpouring of support from the community and other officials, who have been thanking police for their efforts during the recent South State Bank robbery.

While police continue to investigate the string of possibly-related robberies, Webster warned business employees should be vigilant about who comes into their store and call police if a situation seems suspicious.

“We don’t mind coming out even if you just suspect something’s wrong,” Webster said.

He said crime can happen anywhere, and also suggested residents safeguard themselves by not leaving valuables exposed in their cars, lock their doors and be watchful of their surroundings.

Though the past few weeks have been busy for police, officials say they’re ready for the influx of crowds each May by Harley bike week and Bikefest, and pointed out they don’t see as much of the action as the south end during the Harley bike week.

“Most of our activity during the two events is traffic related – keeping things moving, making sure that everyone who is in town to vacation for whatever reason gets to where they need to go as quickly and as safely as possible,” Dowling said.

Elizabeth Townsend: 843-626-0217, @TSN_etownsend

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