Horry County leader ‘disingenuous’ in support of police department, says FOP president

CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Horry County leaders say they’re offended by posts made on social media claiming the county isn’t doing enough to fill vacant positions in the police department.

The social media posts were made following a News13 story with Horry County Police Chief Joseph Hill where he explained the department needs more money to pay seasoned officers a higher salary.

“It’s like everything else. It’s money. Folks are leaving because they’re getting higher pay elsewhere,” said Chief Hill in an interview May 9.

The local Fraternal Order of Police was one Facebook group that shared Chief Hill’s comments about needing more money. Stating on the social media site, “We have been screaming for years what Chief Hill has been asking and telling at his meetings; however, as usual, it is falling on deaf ears with the county administrator and Horry County Council.”

Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus publicly criticized Chief Hill in Tuesday night’s council meeting, saying since he has served as chair, council has provided the police department all of the funds and all of the resources it needs.

“To portray our council as a council that’s not supportive of the police was not correct,” voiced Lazarus. “It wasn’t our chief, and I want to make that clear, it was not. It was from an outside agency that was making those remarks through y’all’s (News13) social media, and I found that disheartening and I found it offensive.”

During Tuesday night’s meeting, Lazarus publicly confronted Chief Hill and the rest of the public about the posts and said council has supported the police department by giving them new equipment and raises.

“Over the years since I’ve been chairman, all the employees, including the police, have gotten anywhere from 2% to 3%, including the 5% that the Class1 officers got,” defends Lazarus.

But the National President of the Fraternal Order of Police says that doesn’t tell the whole story.

“They weren’t keeping up with inflation in Horry County,” explains FOP President Chuck Canterbury. “They weren’t keeping up with the amount of contribution increase they had in their pension. His police officers have had over a 3.25% in their pension contributions, at the same time they reduced 25% of their sick leave and vacation time.”

In the FOP’s post, they claimed under Lazarus, the officers have lost pay, health benefits, retirement benefits, and vacation.

Lazarus says the police department’s budget has increased by an average of 6.87% percent per year and added council has added 19 positions to the department’s budget in the last five years.

“To say that you’ve added 19 additional officers in that period of time is great. Put the boots on the ground,” suggests Canterbury. “The people in Horry County and the police officers in Horry County are not safe.”

Lazarus suggests there are other county employees who need to do their jobs in order to fill the 21 vacancies in the police department, rather than having council raise the salary for seasoned officers.

“Okay, let’s remember something. Council sets policy. The (county) administrator and the chief of police and the human resources hire. We’ve allocated. County council has allocated the funds. They’re available. They’re there. Now, the rest of them need to do their job and utilize those resources, go out and whether it is better advertising or whether it’s better recruiting or what it might be, it’s hard in the nation right now to get police officers,” suggests Lazarus.

Canterbury says the council chair can lay the blame on others, but that Chief Hill has done a great job at hiring new officers since joining the department in September 2016.

“So, it’s a little disingenuous for Mr. Lazarus to say that they’ve done everything that they could,” says Canterbury. “It’s also disingenuous for him to say that council appropriates and the administrator does the function of putting people in the police department because the administrator answers directly to county council. Chief Hill has done an outstanding job at recruiting and retention, he’s hired a number of officers, and he’s still 21 officers short.”

While Chief Hill declined an on-camera interview responding to Lazarus’ words in the council meeting, he did say he appreciates the effort county council has made in the past for the department and he’s confident the county will stand alongside his officers so that Horry County will remain safe.

Chief Hill adds that the department hopes to hire new recruiters soon to fill the numerous vacancies.