Fugitives seek refuge in the Myrtle Beach sun

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Myrtle Beach. The sand, the ocean…It is a Mecca for all who worship the sun. Unfortunately, the alluring landmarks work for fugitives, too.

WMBF News Anchor Matt Nordin sat down with Myrtle Beach Police Officer Brenda Christy to see why the Grand Strand can be an ideal hide-a-way for someone on the run.

"Why do so many fugitives show-up in Myrtle Beach?" asks Nordin.

Christy replies, "Well, one, it's a transient population. And our daily population can go from 105,000 individuals to 350,000 in just a weekend."

In other words, fugitives are able to hide in plain sight; however, that's only half the story.

WMBF News has learned top law enforcement officials on the Grand Strand are concerned because even when they catch those fugitives, they often have to let them go.

Sgt. Kwame Livington with the J. Reuben Long Detention Center explains when a person has a minor charge, many states will not pay the costs to extradite the individual.

"That happens quite often. Like a person is wanted in New York, if it's a shoplifting charge or something minor like that, they won't extradite. It costs a lot more to extradite a person all the way to New York. So they won't extradite," Livington states simply.

Lisa Williams, a Myrtle Beach resident, doesn't like that at all.

WMBF News ran into Williams while she was watching her son play with some friends at Grand Park.

If other states won't come get their fugitives, she believes local authorities should send them packing, even though money's tight here, too.

"Well, true. But I guess if you look in the long run, what's it costing you to let them stay? Is it causing more crime? More work? Then it might be cheaper to, in the long run, to do a bus ticket somewhere," argues Williams.

A spike in crime due to other states' fugitives is top of mind for Myrtle Beach police.

"Do [fugitives with minor crimes] affect our crime rate in the future?"

"Um, unfortunately it can," admits Christy. "Some continue a path of criminal activity. And that is one concern we have. But once we locate these individuals, we try to keep a tab --- so to speak --- on possibly where they're working or where they're living at, in case further crimes are committed in our area."

For the large part, fugitives whose states won't come get are usually accused of non-violent crimes. But that doesn't mean they're not going to turn violent here.

Breaking into a house and stealing something one time could lead the criminal to try a bolder, violent crime next time.

Property crimes are something law enforcement officials across the country refer to as "gateway crimes," and WMBF News has learned through SLED crime stats, that Horry County already has one of the worst property crime rates in the state.

In fact, almost as many property crimes were committed in Horry County in 2009 as in Greenville County, where the population is 70 percent larger.

MBPD says they're doing something about the alarming rate.

Officer Christy recently started working with the U.S. Marshals service. While still employed by Myrtle Beach police, she's tracking fugitives with the feds at least four days a week.

Often, fugitives wanted by local authorities.

"I've gone as far as Tennessee. Memphis, Tennessee. I've also recently, the outer limits of North Carolina," says Christy.

Christy has traveled to surrounding states for suspects wanted in Myrtle Beach. Of course, working with the feds allows Christy to extend that long arm of the law.

"Absolutely. Because we have the opportunity just based on manpower alone to get out there and be more involved, actually use different resources to apprehend these individuals," she confirms.

Welcome news for moms like Lisa Williams who's worried about crime since she moved to Myrtle Beach five years ago.

"I do keep special watch on my kids. And I do, we have discussions on what's appropriate and what's not appropriate and where they can and can't go," says the concerned mother. "So that is an issue that I probably focus on more living here than I would've living in other places."

After all, she says, what better place for a criminal to come than where the people are, and where they can't easily be recognized.

Related Links:

Copyright 2011 WMBF News. All rights reserved.