HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - In 2019, Horry County police officers responded to a record number of calls, reduced some violent crimes and dealt with a growing need for more officers.
WMBF News sat down with Horry County Police Chief Joseph Hill for a look back at the year and to talk about what is ahead for the growing county.
Inside the data
One of the county’s greatest achievements in 2019 was decreasing the number of homicides by 50%.
Hill attributed the decrease to a strategic plan developed with federal partners to go after repeat offenders. He also credits partnering with churches and other nonprofits to increase prevention efforts among youth.
Despite this year’s decrease, Hill said more can be done.
“This problem is a reoccurring problem. We take one bad element out of a community and we have a group that comes in to fill that void. So this is a continuing effort,” he said.
While homicides reached a six-year low, other crimes saw an uptick.
Horry County reported 16 more rapes last year than 2018. Hill said that increase could also indicate more people are comfortable reporting the incidents to police.
“Quite often because of the event, folks don’t want to contact law enforcement. So we’re hoping this is more of an awareness piece and more trusting of their local law enforcement,” Hill said.
Hill pointed to the increase in drugs as one of the reasons behind a rise in certain crimes. The department reported more than 300 more cases of larceny and another 250 more cases of theft, specifically from vehicles.
“That's all attributed to the rise in the use of heroin and fentanyl in our drug communities,” Hill said. “They're looking for a quick fix and they're looking for quick money to get that quick fix.”
Aggravated assaults increased by 9% in 2019. Hill attributes part of the increase to the presence of drugs in the community.
“It's kind of hard to pin down aggravated assaults. They happen at bars and you have crowds of people,” Hill said. “Those are harder to combat than drug trafficking or some of the other offenses like homicide.”
Between 2018 and 2019, violent crime offenses increased by 5%, but overall the county reported a 20% decrease since 2014.
Beyond the data, Hill said he measures success for the department by the amount of community outreach in 2019. Officers attended homeowners association meetings and hosted events to help reduce residents’ fear of crime.
“That’s the biggest driver of concern in the community, not so much that these folks have been a victim of crime, but they fear crime because of what they see on news, read on social media,” Hill said. “We’re trying to communicate to them the facts of ‘Hey, you know what, you live in a very safe community.’”
Impact of county’s growth
2019 was a record year for the Horry County police department. Officers responded to 116,883 calls for service.
The top calls were related to traffic stops, nuisance, and alarms for burglary and intrusion.
While the calls have increased, Hill said the department is having trouble keeping up with staffing levels. The department is currently budgeted with 256 positions, according to the 2019-20 budget.
Ten years ago the department staffed 265 people and there was 86,000 less residents.
“We continue to grow every day in Horry County so our calls for service and our response times are a big concern for us,” Hill said. “Our response times are ticking up.”
According to Hill, the International Association of Chiefs of Police recommends two officers for every 1,000 citizens. The police department currently has one police officer for 1,344 residents, based on population estimates included in 2019-2020 budget.
Hill said 20 new officers are needed over the next few years to catch the county up and to prepare for future growth.
“We would just like to get on a path to increase our staff incrementally every year just so it’s not a burden to taxpayers,” Hill said.
The department presented this request to county council during December’s planning meeting.
Hill said he believes continuing to focus on repeat offenders and partnering with the community will help the department reduce crime throughout the county.
Internally, he said the department will work this year to add more officers and decrease response times.
The county also plans on continuing its partnership with its federal partners. For the past few years, Horry County has worked with the FBI on combating street crimes and reducing violence.
Hill also hopes to increase the use of technology within the department. He is hoping to add a crime analyst on staff and increase license plate readers in 2020.