FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce hosted its winter legislative breakfast Friday at the Florence Center with a focus on public safety.

Florence Police Chief Allen Heidler spoke along with Florence County Sheriff TJ Joye and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel. The three explained public safety, the problems each are facing and what the biggest threats are to public safety.

Area businesses were present, as well as hospitals and both the Florence City and Florence County councils. Representatives from Florence 1 Schools and higher education representatives were also present.

Joye broke down statistics and revealed that through operation “Extended Stay,” over a three-day period there were nearly 100 people arrested on drug and various other charges in Florence County.

Joye said the first arrest in the operation had enough fentanyl to kill the entire west side of Florence.

“The fentanyl is an epidemic,” Joye said. “We were averaging four overdoses a week on Lucas Street and when I say Lucas Street, I mean the motels, 52, I-95 — one of the largest interchanges in the country — and that’s what we’re dealing with.”

Heidler spoke about the lack of manpower in police officers. He said various things contribute to the lack of officers, including a lack of pay, no support of family in the profession, and the distrust police officers experience with the community they serve.

Heidler said the distrust from the public has increased since the death of George Floyd and most recently Tyre Nichols.

Heidler said with the help of City Manager Randy Osterman, Florence police officers recently received a raise.

“Coordinated an adjustment to the police officer budget that allowed for the significant increase in pay for existing officers,” Heidler said. “That adjustment also includes raising the starting salary that makes Florence Police Department a top competitor in the Pee Dee.”

Joye said that greed and money are what is allowing the fentanyl distribution to continue at the motels.

Keel said that South Carolina had the highest number of murders ever in June 2021.

“I had my second press conference that I have had as Chief of SLED and that was because we saw the highest number of murders in our state that’s ever been recorded,” Keel said. “561 in 2020 and I’m sad to say that in 2021, we saw that number go up again. 566 murders. The murder rate has increased in South Carolina six years in a row.”

The chamber said it created Friday’s event in hopes to make sure every aspect of the community is connected and informed about public safety.

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Taylor Ford is a multimedia journalist for News13. She joined the News13 team in January 2023. Taylor is a Florence native and covers the Pee Dee out of News13’s Florence Bureau. Read more of Taylor’s work here.