'It's a fertile ground for it:' Law enforcement discusses plans to combat gangs in Horry County

Law enforcement discusses plans to combat gang violence
Updated: Feb. 27, 2018 at 9:14 PM EST
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HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – The fight against gangs in Horry County continues.

Horry County Police Chief Joseph Hill said the area has a "great customer base" for national gang recruiting efforts.

Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said they are doing everything they can to tackle this issue.

"It's a fertile ground for it because you've got millions of tourists and tons of money and you've got an opioid problem. There's a lot of underlying things that make it attractive for gangs to come in," said Richardson.

Richardson said when one thinks of national gangs, they think of New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. He added there are no national gangs in Horry County.

"By the time it gets here, it's much more splintered into the Third Street Boys and the Fifth Street Boys and that sort of stuff," Richardson said. "But the lack of a national presence certainly leaves room for people to come in, the opportunity for people to come in."

According to the solicitor, they are fighting this constantly by putting up barriers to make Horry County a less attractive place for gangs.

Richardson said there are 54 gangs currently in Horry County. Approximately 1,500 gang members are identified and that number is down significantly over a two-year period.

"What we have done for Horry County - more particularly for the opioid and gang problems - is that we have two U.S. attorneys that are in our office. So, we take a lot of those violent cases to our federal partners through our U.S. attorneys that are located right here in our office," Richardson said. "So that has been great. We have sent about 50 of our most violent offenders through the federal agency, prosecuted by people on my staff."

Lt. Tim Ayers, president of the South Carolina Gang Investigators Association, said there's more to the fight than just putting gang members behind bars.

"Everything isn't going to be fixed by going to jail. You can't arrest everyone, and we aren't going to arrest our way out of this. You've got to change the culture," said Ayers.

Hundreds of law enforcement agencies from South Carolina and surrounding states are gathering together this week in Myrtle Beach for the South Carolina Gang Investigators Association's "Gangs Across the Carolinas" training conference.

This conference is held every year to bring together law enforcement agencies from South Carolina and its surrounding states to learn from professionals, to network and to share ideas.

Richardson said there are fascinating things going on with the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division's fusion center in Columbia.

Fusion is a database that allows law enforcement to share all gang-related information with one another, from what car the member drives to their tattoos.

Richardson said gangs are always evolving and changing, so this is an opportunity for officers to change and evolve as well.

Ayers is from Rock Hill and says Myrtle Beach is a town that attracts many for vacation, but it is also a place for gangs to come together as well.

"They will flee and try to lay low and you can blend in so easily because you're in with millions of people. When you have those type of numbers, anonymity becomes crucial to those guys. So, they will come down here and lay low," Ayers said. "They can still get in touch with other gang members with other guys in the area or just by being a gang member associating with the other sets around them."

The South Carolina Gang Investigators association training conference ends on Thursday, March 1.

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