HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Horry County’s police chief said his department needs 20 additional officers per year just to keep up with growth and vacancies over the next four years.
The Horry County Police Department responded to 13,270 calls for service in May 2021, according to recent data presented to county leaders. Approximately 32% — or 4,247 of those calls — originated in the “North Precinct” which encompasses Carolina Forest, SC-90, a portion of the coast and as far inland as SC-905.
As demand for law enforcement services increases, Chief Joseph Hill says strategically planning coverage to keep the community safe is an every day discussion. That discussion on the county level now includes the creation of a fifth police precinct in Carolina Forest and surrounding communities.
Right now, four precincts geographically divide patrols into sectors across Horry County. We asked what kind of manpower it would take to launch a fifth.
“It’s going to take approximately 42 people – that includes command staff, crime scene processors [and] detectives to staff that precinct, according to our guidelines,” he explained.
The move, he said, would have countywide impacts — especially in rural sectors of the county.
“Right now, I’ve got a sector out west. It’s 101 square miles and I have one patrol officer in that sector,” he said. “Our goal is to split the sectors and put two to three cops in a sector and that way our response times go down. One of the calls we get on a frequent basis is, ‘It took X amount of minutes for an officer to get to my location and I was calling for help. Again, that’s not acceptable. We should be able to get there in a timely fashion…. so we strategically place our officers in places where they can get to the more populated areas quickly and we need bodies for that.”
But coverage and response times are only part of the logic behind the plan. The men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our community are a main reason, too.
“For me, what’s more important is officer safety. If it also gets into a bind out there, it could take up to 15 minutes for us to get to him or her to provide aid. And that’s unacceptable,” added Hill. “Our response time needs to mirror best practices in the country for priority one calls.”
The new Carolina Forest precinct, as it’s currently proposed, would cover communities like Carolina Forest, Wild Wing, a portion of the coast, parts of Forestbrook and as far inland as SC-90.
Dan Kniola’s lived in Carolina Forest for five years now and says while he and his wife feel safe in the community, he’s happy at the prospect of more police in Horry County.
“I believe that if there was an issue, we would be taking care of it pretty quickly,” he said. “Chief Hill is understaffed and especially in the Carolina Forest area with some 40,000 residents and growing.”
While common calls in the Carolina Forest area include suspicious people, domestic disputes, noise and traffic complaints, he says public safety needs to grow as more people move in.
“Two police officers on a shift is not enough for what happens here,” added Kniola. “You have to have people obeying the laws, and then you have to have help when you need it. That’s why I think Joe Hill needs that help.”
So what’s it going to take to make the fifth police precinct a reality?
Hill tells News13 the department is one-third of the way there to hire the officers needed. Horry County recently approved applying for a $7.5 million U.S. Justice Department COPS grant that requires $5.6 million in matching funds. The grant would help fund 15 additional police officer positions to help staff the precinct. The department is also recruiting to fill 15 positions after receiving a previous COPS grant in 2020.
Training for those officers, according to hill, would take about a year and just under $16,000 per officer. Hill says the department could launch the precinct without a building — which is part of the plan — and could take two to three years to construct.
“Once we turn the lights on and open the door, you can’t throw in all 46 brand new cops. So you’re going to have officers that have been in the department from one year all the way up to 20 years to make sure we have a depth of knowledge in that precinct.”
The county is currently looking to build a government complex in Carolina Forest to not only expand government services, but to house the precinct. Proposed sites include:
- Off International Drive on Hinson Drive
- Carolina Forest Boulevard near Farmer’s Rest Drive
- Corner of River Oaks Drive and Augusta Plantation
Hill says bottom line — he wants people who live in Horry County to feel safe and needs the extra help to accomplish what he calls a “paramount” goal.
“The fear of crime is real. It may not affect you in your community, in your house. But if you’re concerned about what’s happened four miles down the road, it affects the way you live and where you carry yourself. I want folks to come here and enjoy the rest of their life,” he said. “We have an infrastructure that has not kept up to include public safety.”