CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – FBI data shows the number of murder cases solved by Horry County police has fallen in recent decades.
Captain John Harrelson joined the department about twenty years ago. He now heads up the Criminal Investigations Division (CID), but through the ranks, he’s seen changes in the way the department solves murder cases.
“The technology, whether it be fingerprints and DNA has come light-years in my career. I can remember it taking sometimes months even excessive years, and now with technology such as A Face and in some instances it’s almost instantaneous,” said Captain Harrelson.
Still, despite new technology, Thomas Hargrove with the murder accountability project says like many other departments, the Horry County Police Department is having a hard time catching murderers.
“In recent years, murders are becoming less likely to be solved,” said Hargrove.
Hargrove and his group compared data reported to the FBI by police departments and found from 1996-2005 Horry County solved about 86 percent of all murders.
The following decade (2006-2015), that percentage dropped 22 points – closing only 61 percent of murder cases.
“That’s one of the lowest rates ever recorded. Congratulations Horry County, you’re growing up. You now have many of the problems that really big cities around the country have experienced,” said Hargrove.
Hargrove says most times, a decrease like that is contributed to an increase in drug and gang activity, both of which Horry County police have tackled in the last few years.
“Murders between strangers are harder to solve than murders between intimates. Murders involving street gangs or drug transactions are generally a challenge,” said Hargrove.
Hargrove says departments that face budget restraints also have a hard time solving murders, and Harrelson says despite rapid growth in Horry County, the criminal investigations division hasn’t grown much since he’s been there.
“As a manager, I’m never going to turn down more people,” said Harrelson.
Still, even if the department had the funds to grow the criminal investigations division, many just can’t do the job.
“As investigators and as homicide detectives, there are always those cases- the ones that we haven’t been able to bring resolutions to for whatever reason. Those are the cases that keep us up at night,” said Harrelson.
So far in 2017, Harrelson says their numbers for solving murder cases are up with 81 percent of all cases solved, and Chief Joseph Hill says he knows why.
“It’s because of strategy. Coming here, looking at how we do things, we’re changing things that just don’t make sense to us, and we’re increasing efficiencies,” said Hill.
Hill has implemented a new program where his detectives are working with retired officers, detectives, and FBI agents to open up cold cases, take a second look, and put murders behind bars.
“I want closure for these families and these victims of horrible crimes, and my folks want it also. So, my job as chief of police is to give them all the resources, support whether it’s money, personnel, or equipment to make sure these cases are solved in a timely fashion and we’re making extremely good progress in some of these case closures,” said Hill.
Chief Hill says their cold case program with retired officers is now officially up and running.
He hopes that effort and new accountability standards will help them better solve murder cases.