Myrtle Beach officials admit they were not prepared for a surge of visitors last weekend, but they stress they will bring in additional law enforcement resources for the upcoming holiday.
From Friday through Sunday, police received more than 1,200 calls for service. Crowds packed certain sections of the city and a shooting on Ocean Boulevard injured several people. With Memorial Day weekend approaching, city leaders remain concerned about tourists flocking to businesses that are just beginning to reemerge from COVID-19 restrictions.
“There is no getting around the fact that we had some very undesirable behavior this past weekend,” Myrtle Beach City Manager John Pedersen said during an emergency council meeting Monday. “What we are seeing and what we’re starting to experience — not just here in Myrtle Beach but across the country — is the psychology of people who have spent the last 80 days inside quarantined or social distancing, and they have the opportunity to get out and come to a place like Myrtle Beach. And certainly I think that, to a large degree, that is something that there is no way to completely anticipate. Now that we’ve witnessed it, we need to be ready to deal with it going forward.”
The city typically brings in additional public safety resources for Memorial Day weekend because of Atlantic Beach Bikefest. Although the bike rally was officially moved to Labor Day weekend this year because of COVID-19, city officials still anticipate they will see heavy traffic.
“Our numbers are going to be pretty high this weekend,” councilman Mike Lowder said. “We need to be prepared that it’s going to be that way.”
City staff will be staging pedestrian barricades along sections of Ocean Boulevard this week and will use them if crowds grow too large. They will also prepare to set up a lane for emergency vehicles if needed.
More than 100 officers from across the state are coming to assist the MBPD this weekend along with more than 20 officers from local departments. Response teams will be ready to disperse crowds and handle vehicle congestion. State officers will be here to do compliance checks at businesses.
One of the problems officers faced last weekend was responding to large gatherings in vacant business parking lots. Police plan to crack down on those parking lot parties this weekend.
“If you come to live, work or play in Myrtle Beach, you will obey the law or there will be consequences for your behavior,” said Amy Prock, the city’s police chief.
Prock said her department makes staffing plans based on lodging data, information from the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, and intelligence gleaned from the State Law Enforcement Division and city officers.
“The information we originally received was inaccurate at best,” Prock said. “It was extremely disappointing to me and to my staff that the communication between our business community was lacking with our department.”
Councilman John Krajc asked Prock what could be done to avoid a situation where the city is caught unprepared.
Prock stressed that her department will need as much information as possible from businesses to make staffing adjustments. She also said a challenge for the city is that some beaches in other states remain closed because of the pandemic. If hotels and other businesses see a spike in customers, she said, the police department needs to know.
“You hear me often say that public safety is a shared responsibility,” she said. “A huge part of it is the communication piece.”
Prock also addressed the Sunday shooting.
Shortly before 7:15 p.m. Sunday, police responded to a report of a shooting near RipTydz Oceanfront Grille on Ocean Boulevard, Prock said. Officers arrested the shooter soon after their arrival. A short time later, police were called about gunshots near Mr. Joe White Avenue.
Two officers on patrol in the area were at the scene under a minute and they had detained three suspects within 12 minutes. So far, four people have been taken into custody and Prock said additional arrests will be made.
The people involved in the shooting are rival gang members from Chesterfield County, Prock said. She said there was a prior incident involving the gangs that happened outside the area and that led to the weekend’s violence.
Prock said the victims are being treated for nonlife-threatening injuries.
The city has the ability to implement a curfew and require early business closures, but Pedersen said there are no plans to use those powers during Memorial Day weekend.
But if circumstances change, that could happen.
Although city officials expect to see another busy weekend, they are encouraging visitors to temper their expectations: Some entertainment businesses can’t operate because of the governor’s COVID-19 mandates and others, such as dine-in restaurants, are operating with additional limitations. Many restaurants are not fully staffed and they must limit the number of customers because of social distancing concerns. In some instances, just getting a table could take more than two hours.
“The Myrtle Beach that they love and know is not yet back to normal,” city spokesman Mark Kruea said. “We’re not quite at full strength at this point. … South Carolina’s not back to normal by any means yet.”
City officials are encouraging visitors to practice social distancing and wear a mask this weekend.
“We are still in the middle of a very serious pandemic,” Pedersen said. “We are all hopeful that this is trending in the right direction, but we’re far from in the clear and out of the woods on this.”