WMBF Investigates: Ramping up a police force for the summer

WMBF Investigates: Ramping up a police force for the summer
Tourists on the beach in Ocean City. (Source: Town of Ocean City)
Tourists on the beach in Ocean City. (Source: Town of Ocean City)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – After a spate of violence in Myrtle Beach last month, the WMBF News investigative team reached out to another tourist destination to learn how their law enforcement efforts change with the influx of tourists.

"We see a big spike in our population in the summer, and with that when you have more people you have more crime and incidents, so you know, we have a similar, kind of a similar issues that Myrtle Beach might experience," said Lindsay Richard, the Public Affairs Specialist for Ocean City, Maryland Police.

Richard said her department is paying close attention to what is happening here in Myrtle Beach, and the agency typically looks to similar communities to get ideas.

WMBF News turned to her after our investigation into the size of Myrtle Beach Police force compared to the number of tourists we see on a year basis.

Ocean City reports 8 million yearly tourists, about half of what the Grand Strand sees, but the police department is less than half the size of the Myrtle Beach Police Department; the FBI reports the town had 104 officers in 2015. That's permanent officers - but Ocean City has a seasonal police force as well.

"We've actually already started for next year," Richard said. "We typically try to hire at least 75 new seasonal police officers every summer. So we work throughout the year to get, to recruit seasonal officers to come and work for the summer."

The typical candidate is a recent college graduate or soon-to-be college graduate. Maryland law dictates officers must be at least 21 years old.

"Typically we see around, between 300 and 500 applicants every year," Richard said. "We kind of market it as this is a stepping stone to their law enforcement career so that when they go out to find full-time employment they can, they have real world experience out on the road as a police officer.

Richard continued: "Their training is abbreviated of course, but things like firearms, they get the same exact training as our full-time officers do, it's just in a much more condensed period of time."

Richard said in the off-season, the town may have 60 to 100,000 people in it, but during the summer, that can shoot up to 300,000. More officers on the street help in that case.

"Having these extra officers allows us to keep that same police presence throughout town, relative to the number of people that are in town," Richard said.

Successful candidates must pass a written test, a background check, a physical ability test, an interview, a psych evaluation and a lie detector test.

The permanent force in the town is made up nearly entirely of former seasonal officers, Richard estimates around 90 percent of the agency. Those temporary employees that don't find permanent work in Ocean City have an easier time finding work elsewhere.

"Just yesterday, we had a job fair for them, so a lot of police departments from around the region came down to recruit our seasonal officers, so it's a good recruiting, a good way for seasonal officers to get employment in other places," Richard said.

Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said he'd like the city to hire 50 new permanent officers, and he's also working on the possibility of a group of reserve officers. In fact, forming that group was part of his conversation with Miami, Florida's chief of police.

Miami has a reserve force and Rhodes wanted to learn how it is run and maintained. He plans to take the ideas he got from Miami to city manager Jon Pedersen and Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock.

The city says simply hiring a seasonal police force in South Carolina is different than it may be in Maryland. The Palmetto State does have regulations in place for reserve officers; they're required to go through a minimum of 60 hours of training, and monthly training after that. They then must spend at least ten days with a full-time officer.

The city did have seasonal officers decades ago, but became more of what a spokesman called a year-round community through the 80's and 90's. He said the city found it needed officers year-round, not just for three months. He pointed to the Memorial Day plans and weekend staffing plans as an effort to bring in help from other agencies using already-accredited officers.

The city has also hired private security personnel for jobs that don't require a sworn officer, but do require a level of training and authority.

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