More than 400 additional police officer and firefighters are needed to protect the people of Horry County, according to groups representing first responders and police.
Two law enforcement groups endorsed a challenger for the chair of the county council in hopes of improving staffing levels.
“If we don’t start doing like the city of Myrtle Beach did … then we’re going to be even further behind down the road,” said Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Canterbury, a retired Horry County officer, said the department needs 200 more police officers based on the area population. While he admitted adding hundreds of new officers is unlikely, he said they could follow Myrtle Beach Police’s lead and hire dozens over several years.
President of the South Carolina Professional Fire Fighters Association Roger Odachowski echoed those calls and said the county needs about 230 more firefighters to meet its call volume and number of stations.
There are approximately 200 current Horry County Fire and Rescue firefighters at more than 40 stations. That means some calls they respond with only two firefighters on a truck, Odachowski said.
“There is nothing you can do when you show up for a house fire with two guys on an engine, you have to wait for more,” Odachowski said.
Canterbury and Odachowski made their comments on Tuesday as they endorsed Johnny Gardner for Horry County Council Chair in the June Republican primary. He is challenging incumbent Mark Lazarus for the seat. Gardner was not present for the endorsement announcement.
The two said Lazarus has refused to meet with them or take their concerns seriously. Lazarus did not respond in time for this report.
Canterbury and Odachowski said Gardner promised public safety would be the top issue. They also said Gardner agreed to meet with them and try to find solutions to the issues.
Morale, department size and pay are some of the ongoing issued voiced by Horry County fire and police over recent years. Leaders said the issues impact retention and recruitment and argued the county hasn’t done enough to meet the needs.
The County Council recently included a $1 an hour raise for police in its proposed budget. That increase is in addition to merit-based raises. Officials touted that Horry County Police pay is inching closer to Myrtle Beach police salaries.
Horry County spokeswoman Kelly Moore previously said that under the plan certified officers’ starting pay would be moving from $38,500 to $42,000.
However, Canterbury disputed recent numbers cited at a budget meeting and when asked to compare pay between Myrtle Beach Police and Horry County, he provided slightly different figures. Canterbury said starting pay for Horry County police officers would be $38,500 a year. Myrtle Beach police start at $40,000 with no training, he said. Once a Myrtle Beach officer graduates the police academy their pay jmps to $44,000 then to $46,000 six months later, Canterbury said.
The proposed raises also create salary compression where newer officers see a larger percentage raise than those with a decade in the department, Canterbury said.
Firefighters haven’t seen merit raises in seven years, Odachowski said.
In last three years, Horry County saw 53 firefighters quit because of fatigue, Odachowski said. That equates to a loss of $2 million spent training those responders.
Local police and firefighters do a great job, Canterbury said, but it will not stay that way if there isn’t progress on the issues that match Horry County’s growth.
“Morale at the police department is the lowest I’ve seen in 30 plus years here,” said Canterbury.
With low salaries and forced overtime, officers are forced to join other agencies or promotions to administrative roles, Canterbury said.
Gardner has said the county needs to look at staffing levels and federal grants to help fund additional officers, Canterbury said.
There are 106 patrol officers with the Horry County Police, Canterbury said. In Horry County, patrol officers have a 300 square-mile patrol area and its police per capita rate lags behind national standards.
County police response times average longer than 10 minutes, Canterbury said. He said officials tout a response time under seven minutes, but that figure includes officer-started calls which are instantaneous.
“If the people in this county are not protected they are going to quit coming here,” he said.