Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails critical of police

Mayor Billy Swails

MOUNT PLEASANT -- Mayor Billy Swails on Thursday criticized a three-day crackdown on speeding in the Hobcaw subdivision that resulted in his wife being ticketed.

He said more residents are worried about violent crime, such as armed robberies, than speeding. Swails characterized the effort as a speed trap and suggested that perhaps there are too many officers chasing town speeders in subdivisions rather than hardened criminals.

Police Chief Harry Sewell did not directly address Swails' feelings about police priorities. Instead, he provided statistics that show violent crime in town dropping over the past five years. And he said the department's traffic enforcement is based on collision data and resident requests supported by data.

Swails said the fact that Peggy Swails got a speeding ticket in Hobcaw has nothing to do with his opinion of the operation.

Swails lives in Hobcaw off Mathis Ferry Road.

"I just don't like speed traps. If they are speeding, stop 'em. Say 'Please slow down,' " Swails said.

Sewell also had no comment on Swails' description of the Hobcaw traffic enforcement operation as a speed trap. Officers went there two weeks ago because of reports of speeding, he said.

In Hobcaw, 39 tickets were issued in three days for drivers traveling at least 12 mph above the 25 mph speed limit during lunch and later in the afternoon, he said.

"I'm very proud of our men and women. We will continue to serve the community," Sewell said.

From 2005-2010, the Mount Pleasant population has grown by 20 percent, to 68,555, but the overall crime rate has fallen by nearly 4 percent and the violent crime rate has dropped 20 percent, according to FBI crime statistics.

A rare Mount Pleasant slaying occurred Wednesday at The Market at Oakland Shopping Center when a Walmart employee was stabbed to death. A suspect was arrested.

Violent crime fell 28 percent last year in Charleston and 14 percent in North Charleston. In 2010, Mount Pleasant and Summerville both showed slight increases in violent crime. The violent crime drop in Charleston and North Charleston mirrors a 6 percent drop in violent crime nationwide during 2010, according to the FBI.

"We had a string of robberies that we have solved," Sewell said.

Through July of this year, there were 100 violent crimes -- murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault -- in Mount Pleasant compared with 62 violent crimes for the same period last year.

Leading the list is 75 aggravated assaults, an increase of 92 percent over 2010. Some 60 percent of the aggravated assaults reported for the first seven months of this year were domestic situations, police said.

"We do have violence," Swails said.

However, he noted that in nearly all the aggravated assault cases, the victim and perpetrator know each other as opposed to random, stranger-on-stranger violence.

On Thursday, Swails retracted a statement published in the Moultrie News that suggested that the police traffic-enforcement operation in his neighborhood was related to his plan to reduce lifetime medical benefits to town employees in order to balance the budget.

"It was just born out of frustration. I take that back. The police department is not retaliating against me," he said.

Last week, Swails said the town could owe up to $20 million in 10 years unless it makes changes to its current employee retirement package. He said the matter is the biggest problem facing the town in the next decade.

Under the current system, a retiree with 20 years of service pays 5 percent of health insurance premiums. The town picks up the rest, an arrangement Swails has described as "a sweetheart deal."

The arrangement between the town and retirees continues even when a retiree reaches 65 and is eligible for Medicare. In that case, the town pays 95 percent of a supplemental policy.

Swails said he wants to run the town like a business. Those already retired will not be affected, but the more than 500 current town employees could see their retirement packages shrink.