Horry County Police Department was created in 1959, by a legislative practice that was common during that time period. According to title 53 of the South Carolina statutes, there were 18 such departments in existence in 1962. The department started out with 8 officers and a Chief of Police who answered to a police commission, which consisted of 6 members of the community who were appointed by the Horry County Legislative Delegation. Besides traditional law-enforcement duties, the department was also tasked with the operation of the county jail and the service of magistrate civil papers. The first police chief was Henry Hardwick, who retired shortly thereafter and was succeeded by Lee Johnson of Aynor.
It is important to note that at the time of the department’s creation, the 1,356 square miles of Horry County were mostly rural (By comparison, Rhode Island is 1,214 square miles in size). Census numbers reflect that the total population for Horry County was a little over 68,000 with the following populations in the 4 municipalities: Aynor-635, Conway- 8,563, Loris- 1,702 and Myrtle Beach- 7,834. The other municipalities that exist today had not yet been formed. With these types of conditions, there wasn’t any such thing as “time off”. If a call for service came up, the officer who lived nearest to the call was often times dispatched from their home to handle the problem. In fact officers were required to live in their assigned work area. A formalized work schedule was not implemented until the late 1970’s. The concept of having a back-up officer was more of a rare luxury rather than something an officer could depend on. Modern conveniences, that are now taken for granted, such as portable hand held radios, had yet to be put into service. Officers would have to wait until the late 1980’s for improved communications. As you can see from the picture below; after 16 years of existence, in 1975, the department had only grown to 25 employees.
(Taken in front of the old courthouse circa 1975; from left to right: Willie Dutton, Enoch Smith, Wesley Johnson, Ralph Vaught, Gene Graham, Aubrey Winburn, Sam Collins, Keith Smith, Joe Sarvis, Johnny Morgan, Kathy Richardson, Jobe Blain, Ronald Floyd, Woody Perry, Janice Skipper, Pete Bellamy, Aubrey Hendricks, Levon Johnson, Vernon Jordan, Jerry Graham, Sonny Wilson, Herman Enzor, Buddy Causey, Ellis Bellamy, Buddy Fowler.)
Things began to change for the county police after the South Carolina statutes were amended in 1976. One factor that influenced this change was that each government entity was subject to “Home Rule”. This led the county to eventually choose an Administrator-Council form of government, and later dissolved the existence of the police commission. This placed accountability issues of the department within the authority of the County Administrator, who appoints the Chief of Police. The County Administrator also inherited direct control of the jail in 1981. This was later transferred to the Horry County Sheriff’s Office in light of a court case brought forward by the sitting Sheriff in 1999.
Another historical event was the re-location of the department in 1995. This involved leaving the old county jail and moving into the department’s current location at the M.L. Brown Public Safety Building, which is located at 2560 N. Main Street in Conway. This building was named in honor of M.L. “Junior” Brown who served as this county’s sheriff for 20 years from 1968 to 1988. The building also houses the county’s Coroner, Fire/Rescue, Emergency Preparedness, and the Public Safety Director. The old jail was torn down in 1996 to make room for the new Administration/Judicial Complex, located near the intersection of Beaty Street and 3rd Avenue.
Today the Horry County Police Department is composed of 316 of men and women, of which, 281 are sworn officers. The department operates under an annual budget of nearly $20M which is funded through several different fiscal resources. As the department continues to grow, a number of steps have been taken to better manage and operate the agency. Most notably is the progression towards a precinct concept and the purchase of numerous computer-based technologies. These strides are projected to make operations more streamlined and efficient while focusing on community-oriented police practices. Currently the department’s patrol function is separated into 3 distinct “precincts”; North, Central, and South. A fourth precinct is projected for the future. All other functions will remain centralized at 2560 N. Main Street.