HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – After Horry County police school resource officers were replaced in Horry County Schools in unincorporated areas of the county with a private security company, WMBF News looked into police reports and found HCPD is still being called to Horry County Schools.
Police reports from the first seven weeks of the school year revealed Horry County police officers were called back to nine schools in Horry County 27 times during that time frame. Those schools include: St. James High School, St. James Middle School, Socastee High School, North Myrtle Beach High School, North Myrtle Beach Middle School, Horry County Education Center, Black Water Middle School, Green Sea Floyds High School, and Carolina Forest High School.
School officials are required by law to notify law enforcement officers if any criminal activity occurs in schools. Click here to view Section 59-24-60. "They're responding because there's law enforcement, there's an arrest or something that's taking place that they need to be called in and that's no different than if we had Horry County police there – they might call for back up," said Defeo.
Since the change was made back in August 2017, Defeo said the school security guards have been well received by principals and teachers. Defeo said he prioritizes security in schools before enforcing the law in schools. "My thought process is just to keep the children safe," he said.
Last year, Horry County asked for the school board to pay nearly 90 percent of their officers in schools compensation, rather than the 50 percent the school board had been paying up until then. Defeo said if that request hadn't been made, the school board would have never replaced Horry County police with an armed security company.
"We don't need their cars. We don't need a lot of the things they were asking us to pay for. You have to go back to the fact that every other municipality, even while this was going on, said point blank, 'We're not interested in changing our contract. We're good with the 50/50 contract,'" said Defeo.
WMBF News reached out to the Horry County Police Department for comment, and while they declined an on camera interview, they did say the Horry County Police Department has absolutely no animosity towards continuously responding to the schools they once served.
"The police are just doing their job that they are paid to do, and they do an excellent job for the most part here in Horry County and all the municipalities," said Defeo, and this gives more of an opportunity for more officers to be out patrolling the streets.
The Horry County Police Department also said there doesn't seem to be more instances of being called to schools for something an armed security guard could have handled than there were when Horry County police were directly responsible for school safety.
"When you have 45,000 students, 5,700 employees, we have 55,000 people needing protection, and if you look at that police report and find out how many people were called, that's probably light."
At the end of the day, Defeo said putting armed security in schools is something he's wanted to do for a long time because he is most concerned about one thing. "This has got to be a point that needs to be understood – from my opinion, and my standpoint, I am not worried about law enforcement in the schools. I just want protection."
As far as other SRO programs go, Defeo said as long as the other municipalities that have their law enforcement officers as SRO's in schools keep up with the 50/50 contract agreement between their agency and Horry County Schools, those agencies will continue to protect Horry County Schools. There are still SRO programs for schools in Myrtle Beach, Conway, Aynor and Loris city limits.
Back in January, the school board passed a vote to add armed security guards to elementary schools in Horry County. Defeo said this process is expected to be complete by September 2018.