MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A shortage of police officers in both Myrtle Beach and Horry County's departments has led to overworked officers and made you more vulnerable to slower response times. However, one of those departments is training its 14 newly hired police officers to improve those conditions.
Thirteen men and one woman have been fitted for their uniforms and are in the beginning stages of a yearlong training process to learn how to protect the citizens and visitors of Myrtle Beach. Myrtle Beach Police spokesman Lt. Joey Crosby said almost all new officers will be in training here in town and at the South Carolina Police Academy until this time next year. The officers leave for academy training in Columbia in late October, Lt. Crosby said.
Five of the new hires have already been trained by other agencies. Two hundred twenty three sworn officers make up Myrtle Beach PD. Now, more than half of the sworn police officer vacancies have been filled. There's only nine left.
Lt. Crosby said the new class will make all the difference in policing once they graduate.
"It helps us provide more officers on the roadway so we can be more proactive in our duties and it also with the many special events that we have it helps us cover those events…and more importantly the officers have worked a very long summer. They've worked a lot of long hours and many days. So having those officers allows some more down time as we have these special events," he said.
Filling the police vacancies has been a priority for Myrtle Beach city council as well. Fighting crime and lowering the drug epidemic in the area is at the top of the list for council priorities, Myrtle Beach city manager John Pederson said.
The new hires are credited to improved recruiting efforts. Lt. Crosby said the department tries to lead with a community policing approach.
"We're looking for people that's going to buy into our philosophy of community policing and be out engaging with the public...and working with the public to resolve the issues we have in the community," he said.
He added the recruits have been through, and passed, a rigorous background check process and work history review. The lengthy process of recruitment and training is to make sure the officers are fit for the job.
"That's why the process is so lengthy and we do so much training as to determine does the person have the proper skill set to do this job. So that's why we spend so much time in the training program to ensure one we have the most qualified candidates on the road and number two to make sure they're the best training candidates on the road when they come out," Lt. Crosby said.
Recruitment isn't just about filling positions, but finding employees who will keep their jobs.
Recruitment officers attend career, military and college functions to look for candidates who have histories or do well with police initiatives beyond the badge…like youth involvement and volunteer activities.
Lt. Crosby said strategies to keep the officers already here have included a department-wide raise last year and this year in July, a bonus referral incentive as well as a back to school reimbursement program. But he says it's the technology playing the biggest role in recruiting and retaining.
"So a lot of the younger officers want to know what is your CSI program like? Things such as the cameras we've installed around the city, the license plate readers, all of those are encouraging steps that the officers are seeing that we're moving forward in the technology realm."
The Myrtle Beach Police Department installed additional surveillance cameras and license plate readers within the last year. This year, the department has improved technically with the addition of sonar equipment and a drone.
Neither pieces have been used yet. Lt. Crosby said officers are learning how to use the new sonar equipment properly and it will start being used next summer. The department is still waiting legal paperwork to begin using the drone.
MBPD is hiring and there are still nine vacancies in the department.