Hundreds of out-of-area officers are heading to the Grand Strand this week to help patrol Memorial Day weekend, and local police say they will be trained to make sure they know how to handle the incredibly large crowds.
In the months and weeks leading up to Memorial Day weekend, Grand Strand police officers have received additional training – including cultural awareness training – to make sure they are prepared for the influx of people heading to town, many of whom will be black.
Atlantic Beach Bikefest, which starts Friday, began in 1980 as a rally for black motorcyclists and has grown over the years and expanded into other parts of the Grand Strand.
Grand Strand officers received two days of free cultural awareness training from the U.S. Department of Justice in February. Justice Department representatives also will be in town this weekend to offer assistance if needed.
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“As you work Memorial Day weekend, you have to gather yourself together mentally,” Walter Atkinson, senior conciliation specialist with the Department of Justice Community Relations Service, told the officers in February. “You’re going to have these challenges and based on the directive you’re given by the police chief or the department, you have people who are coming in from other jurisdictions, so you may have to educate them and let them know, ‘this is how we do it here.’”
About 500 officers will join Myrtle Beach’s force of about 220 officers patrolling this weekend, and Chief Warren Gall said they all will be trained not only on the city’s policing policies, but also get an abbreviated version of the diversity training when they get to town.
“We have the diversity training videotape, so they’ll get a briefing on this before deployment,” Gall said. “We’ll also discuss our enforcement policy, what we expect from them and any intelligence we have [on possible issues].”
The majority of out-of-town officers are expected to arrive Thursday.
Gall said officers assisting the city include 280 state officers, 160 officers from about 45 city and county jurisdictions, 39 constables and 14 federal agents.
In North Myrtle Beach, about 100 officers from 25 jurisdictions across the state will assist the city’s 70 officers, and city spokesman Pat Dowling said all police have gone through the Justice Department training.
“All officers have been made aware of how we police and have agreed to police within our jurisdiction in the same manner,” Dowling said in an email. “We require a strong and willing focus on proactively reaching out to visitors and residents in order to build positive relationships, to being seen and being approachable, to being in the mix, to become known as a willing source of information, help and safety.”
Officers in North Myrtle Beach already have begun introducing themselves to the motorcycle clubs that have rented cottages in the city.
“Our public safety personnel are already engaged in the process of reaching out to visitors as they come into the city, letting them know who we are, how we can help, and how they can help us to help them,” Dowling said. “We have also been engaged in outreach to many motorcycle clubs over the winter and spring months, often at their invitation.”
Myrtle Beach also has hired 170 private security officers to assist with the 23-mile traffic loop that the city said it established to ease congestion on Ocean Boulevard.
Officials say establishing a loop, in effect nightly Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., is aimed at keeping traffic moving, because congestion leads to “parking lot parties” that could lead to violence.
The loop routes drivers from 29th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach on Ocean Boulevard south and around to Kings Highway, north to Harrelson Boulevard – which turns into George Bishop Parkway – west to Waccamaw Boulevard, which runs next to U.S. 501, onto S.C. 31 heading north to Grissom Parkway south, then onto U.S. 17 Bypass and down 29th Avenue North.
The security officers’ main job will be to maintain the integrity of the barricades that will be set up, within city limits, along the loop to keep drivers from venturing into neighborhoods and keep pedestrians separate from traffic, said police spokesman Lt. Joey Crosby.
“There will be security training provided by staff,” Gall said. “Discussing our expectations of their staff, preparation for what their duties are, what we expect of them and we’ll talk about diversity and professionalism.”
Gall said with all of the planning and training that’s been done in the past year the city is as prepared as it can be for the weekend.
“You come to a time where you’ve got to put it in somebody else’s hands upstairs,” Gall said. “We’ve done all we can. Our plan is solid. We’re going to expect the best out of our visitors.”
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or on Twitter @TSN_mprabhu.