After a rash of violence last year, a new $50,000 social media campaign features everyone from police to ordinary residents urging Myrtle Beach visitors to respect the community and obey the law this Memorial Day weekend.
Last year, with tens of thousands of people descending on the area for the first weekend of the summer season and for Bikefest in the predominantly black community of Atlantic Beach, three people were killed and seven wounded.
Law enforcement agencies have developed a safety plan to make sure there is no repeat of the violence and the new campaign lets people know what to expect.
“It is unique. We have not done this before,” Brad Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said Friday. “We don’t think this will deter anybody from visiting, but we do think most visitors will realize we have to take proactive steps to make sure Memorial Day weekend is safer.”
A 23-mile one-way loop will control traffic at night, traffic will be one-way on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach, and more law enforcement will be present. Dean expects about $50,000 will be spent on the campaign between now and Memorial Day.
A new website, www.beachbikeweek.org, tells visitors that motorcycle helmet and loitering laws as well as a curfew for juveniles will be strictly enforced. It says tickets will be processed around the clock, and the clerk of court’s office will hold bond hearings every six hours.
One video on the site is from Chief Saundra Rhodes of the Horry County Police Department.
“As a young adult I attended Bikefest and I have watched it change over the course of the last few years,” she says. “The unfortunate criminal activity that occurred last year simply will not be tolerated.”
“We value the safety of our residents and visitors,” Mickey James, president of the Myrtle Beach National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, says in another message. “We respect where we live and ask that when you visit, you do so as well.”
An additional 200 state troopers and 180 State Law Enforcement Division agents are expected to join local police this year.
In Columbia, the state House Ways and Means Committee has already added nearly $250,000 in next year’s state budget for Memorial Day 2016.
State Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, said this year’s costs are being offset by giving officers comp time. But he said that causes problems because officers back home do double duty when other officers are at the beach. They have to cover again when those officers later take their comp days.
Pitts said that whether the money becomes a permanent part of the budget depends on how things go this May.
“The plan is to saturate Bike Week this year” with law enforcement, he said.
Associated Press writer Seanna Adcox contributed to this report from Columbia.