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Pawleys Island: Town adds funding for police

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Pawleys Island Police have handled over 1,000 calls this year, nearly double the number from five years ago. That was enough to convince Town Council this week to continue funding for four part-time officers in addition to the town’s five full-time officers.

The cost is about $18,000 out of $725,000 the town expects to spend in 2012.

“It comes down to how much policing and how much backup the town needs,” Mayor Bill Otis told council members.

At $448,000, the police department is the town’s biggest expense, and spending on the department will rise 26 percent in the budget approved this week. But the town expects to finish the year with a $500,000 surplus, and Otis said the town’s reserve is now over $6 million. A $430,000 surplus is forecast for 2012.

The town added a fifth officer in anticipation of Chief Guy Osborne’s retirement at the end of August. Council wanted another person familiar with the town in place when a new chief is hired.

The town also has an officer who works three days a week during the year to cover for vacations, sick days and training days taken by the full-time officers. There are two other part-time officers who fill in during emergencies and special events, and who work just enough to maintain their state certification.

A fourth part-time officer is assigned during the tourist season to the south end parking lot, which is the largest free beach access in Georgetown County. This year, that officer, Lisa Orr, started earlier and finished later because of the number of visitors. She was also assigned to enforce the town’s leash law on the beach.

“Do you all want this level of protection?” Otis asked.

“I do,” said Council Member Sarah Zimmerman.

“I do,” said Council Member Mary McAllister.

Council Member Mike Adams said the town could probably do without the part-time officers in the winter, but not in July and August. “We have to go with it,” he said.

And Council Member Glennie Tarbox said a quick look at the numbers shows there isn’t much leeway in providing 24-hour protection with the full-time officers.

Osborne said that in addition to time off for training, vacations and illness, the growing number of investigations also affects staffing.

A string of thefts from unlocked cars kept one officer, Matthew Elliott, busy this year. “You can’t investigate that without leaving the island,” Osborne said.

Five years ago, police recorded 581 incidents, including traffic violations. Osborne believes the numbers will increase, even though not all the incidents are criminal or even serious.

Last month, an officer helped a lost motorist on Springs Avenue, prompting questions from council members how someone could get lost on the only road that runs to the south end.

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