CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) – It’s the same story across the nation – officers are leaving police departments at alarming rates, and positions are going unfilled.
But on university and college campuses, that’s been different.
Out of a department of 41 officers, the Coastal Carolina University Department of Public Safety doesn’t have any openings. Neither did the University of South Carolina, as of April 11. Clemson University had one opening for a law enforcement officer, paying $40,148 to $51,237 annually for 40 hours a week.
The Myrtle Beach Police Department has 47 openings, as of Friday.
When it does post an opening, CCU typically sees between 25 and 30 applicants – usually all seasoned law enforcement professionals.
“We get a variety of officers, usually those older, more-experienced officers come here who have been on the street awhile and want a change. … It is a little bit more of a relaxed atmosphere,” CCU Director of Public Safety Chief David Roper said. “At the same time, you still have to be on your toes on a college campus because something can happen any day that would be detrimental to our faculty, staff and students.”
Once an officer is on the team, Roper said they typically stay until they retire.
The department oversees safety at the Conway university, which has about 10,000 students, along with technical colleges in the area.
Recently, one officer transferred to another department and another left for the private sector. Other officers leave for larger departments, like the highway patrol, or get jobs with the state.
Within five years, 53% of officers have left the profession, South Carolina Justice Academy Director Jackie Swindler previously told News13.
Nationally, police departments have claimed that applications are at an all-time low. Last year, the Conway Police Department told News13 that it receives about 15 applicants for a job – with only a couple of those qualified to do it.
The shift has been attributed nationally to the pandemic and a rise in protests about police brutality.
Roper said his department looks for certified officers who have experience working in the field.
“Those people come in and hit the ground running,” he said.
Roper, himself, was attracted to the position after being approached by then-President David DeCenzo about starting a police department on the campus. Roper said he wanted to put young people who were going in the wrong direction back on track, stating that the job isn’t about putting people in jail.
What helps, he said, is that CCU has a good batch of students.
“Normally, when something happens at this university, nine times out of 10, it is somebody who has come here from the outside, so our students can’t be held accountable for anything that you see in the news about Coastal Carolina University,” Roper said.
While the department’s salaries are a few thousand dollars less than other police departments in the area, Roper said CCU is able to offer education incentives, state benefits, and shifts that make it easy to have a family life. Officers are also able to keep their insurance after they retire. The department also offers unlimited overtime to cover events – including basketball and football games.
Having the university’s backing, he said, also helps with recruitment and retainment.
“We’re a little bit unique here because we have so much support from the board of trustees down to our president, that really put an emphasis on the safety of students, faculty and staff here at Coastal Carolina,” Roper said.