Depending on the perspectives of the persons giving their opinions, the increased police presence on Memorial Day weekend made folks feel safer in their neighborhoods – or it was overkill. Those views perhaps depend on whether it’s the take of a visiting motorcyclist – but not necessarily – or a resident.
Most residents liked the 23-mile loop in effect from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Most motorcyclists did not like the loop, although one told The Sun News the loop would not keep him away. There are as many differing points of view as there are groups of people in the area for the holiday weekend.
On balance, the weekend policing plan worked well enough to ensure an improved public safety environment for visitors and residents than was the case in 2014, when three people were killed and seven injured in eight shooting incidents along Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach.
A year ago, angry residents demanded that the city act to make the weekend safer. Many municipal and Horry County people went to work and developed a plan that put many more law enforcement officers, from several jurisdictions, in the area on the three-day weekend when tens of thousands of visitors come to the Grand Strand for a holiday at the beach and/or to participate in events such as the Atlantic Beach Bikefest or Military Appreciation Days. The latter was started by the city of Myrtle Beach as an alternative to annual May motorcycle rallies – the Harley-Davidson rally and the AB Bikefest which started 35 years ago.
When Gov. Nikki Haley declared, perhaps offhandedly, that Bikefest had to end, she spoke for many residents of Myrtle Beach, including city officials, who would like nothing better than having no Bikefest participants to deal with. Many tangential Bikefest participants are not on motorcycles, but come to Myrtle Beach for the weekend. Bikefest is a huge economic boon for the tiny town of Atlantic Beach and folks there have no intention of ending the event, as the governor quickly discovered and backed away from her demand.
In recent years, the Harley riders have rallied primarily on either side of Myrtle Beach, in Murrells Inlet and North Myrtle Beach. However, many Bikefest participants, not necessarily on motorcycles, flock to Myrtle Beach and the city and its residents have to deal with many more people and traffic and all the potential problems that come with huge crowds. Thus, the months of planning by a public safety task force led by Randy Webster, director of Horry County Emergency Management.
In the months ahead, evaluations will continue as to how well the plan worked – and how some aspects might be improved. Webster has it right, we submit, that the task force met its goal “to create a safe environment for the community, Bikefest participants and the public safety personnel working on the event.” Horry County 911 received nearly 200 fewer calls Thursday through Sunday than during the same period in 2014.
City residents at last week’s council meeting praised the council for the 23-mile traffic loop, Ocean Boulevard barricades separating pedestrians from vehicular traffic, and an emergency lane on the boulevard. That lane for first responders had been used previously but not in recent years.
The traffic loop can be tweaked. One resident told the council that a relative couldn’t get home from work because vehicles had broken down. A decal system was suggested to identify drivers who are residents or workers so officers manning the loop can let them through.
It is a real challenge to balance the safety and comfort of residents and all visitors. Were some inconvenienced? No doubt. Did the police presence go overboard? It would not appear so, at this point. Was the weekend a success? Let’s settle for Mayor John Rhodes’ comment: “It sure was better than last year.”
[hed]By the numbers
▪ Horry County police tickets related to Bikefest
2015 | Warnings - 322; Courtesy citations - 220; Arrests - 39; Fines collected - $68,428
2014 |Warnings - 143; Citations - 204; Arrests - unavailable; Fines - $36,443
▪ Area Memorial weekend calls for assistance, excluding North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach fire and police
2015 | 4,106
2014 | 4,301