Competitive pay, widespread accreditation among SC law enforcement wish lists

Published: Sep. 3, 2021 at 7:38 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - South Carolina law enforcement agencies are plagued with low retention rates, and pay is playing a large part in that, according to some in the police community.

WMBF Investigates wanted to find out what local law enforcement agencies see as some of their top challenges and what they’d like to see improve, along with comparing those desires with what a police expert in the state hoped could be accomplished.

RELATED COVERAGE | What experts think is and isn’t working to help police in South Carolina

Of our largest agencies in the immediate viewing area, Horry County Police Department and Myrtle Beach Police Department said they could not accommodate our requests for interviews with each department’s respective chief.

Following our request, the next day, a spokesperson for the HCPD said “we are unable to (accommodate) your request at this time.”

Initially, the MBPD said they’d be interested in doing an interview the following week, but then followed up saying it’d need to wait for a couple of months.

When making the department aware of WMBF Investigates’ two-week deadline, we were eventually told the MBPD’s chief would not be able to do the interview but referred us to speak with the executive director for South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers’ Association instead.

Executive Director JJ Jones served in the field for well over 20 years. Throughout that time, Jones says, it’s now in 2021 that interest in joining the force seems to be at its lowest, a problem he attributes to pay.

“In my 26 years, I’ve never seen recruiting struggles like this,” Jones said.

Jones said pay is so low that agencies from outside states are recruiting officers to leave South Carolina and join their ranks instead.

“Whenever I have agencies that are trying to start people out at $34,000 a year, I mean, you can go make that at Chick-fil-A, and then not work midnight shifts, and worry about getting shot at, or getting in a car wreck or putting your life in danger,” Jones said.

The law enforcement pay hasn’t kept up with the cost of living, and incentives, like paying for higher education for officers, have essentially become a thing of the past, Jones said.

“You’d be surprised how many agencies are 50, 60, 70 officers down, and people are working their days off,” he said.

Jones said a third of the state’s recruits are either going somewhere else or getting out law enforcement altogether.

Florence County Sheriff TJ Joye also agreed to an interview.

“This is a tough career,” he said. “It’s hard to find good people. A lot of people getting out of it because of the way society has accepted law enforcement.”

Joye said he wants his office’s starting pay to begin at $45,000, along with upgrading their pay scale.

When it comes to improving body camera policy, some argue the state’s Law Enforcement Training Council (which oversees the Criminal Justice Academy) should revisit its old body camera policy guidelines and strengthen it with the most current quality guidance.

But in general, those in the law enforcement community have means of finding good policies to run their departments.

“We got to stay in our lane. The Academy cannot mandate all these policies for each agency,” Joye said. “We’re setting standards that fit this office.”

Of those standards that are important to Joye, state and federal accreditation, which are said to ensure agencies are running properly. The majority of South Carolina agencies are without one or both of these designations.

It’s been a goal of Joye’s to get this done for FCSO since he assumed his role as sheriff and found out his office was among those agencies that aren’t accredited. The office hopes to earn that designation around the beginning of the new year.

“There’s good men and women out there working and they want to serve the public,” Joye said. “You have to inspect what you expect to make sure that we’re following what we need to be doing for the citizens and for our sworn officers to uphold the law.”

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