Violent crime down from 2020
By Tony Kukulich
The City of Beaufort released the 2021 annual reports for city’s police and fire departments, and trends for both agencies are generally moving in a positive direction.
A key takeaway from the Beaufort Police Department’s (BPD) report is that the number of violent crimes reported was down more than 28 percent compared to 2020. There were 68 violent crimes – defined as aggravated assault, homicide, rape and robbery – reported in 2020 compared to 47 reported in 2021. In 2019, there were 58 violent crimes reported.
Property crimes remained essentially flat year over year with 471 reported in 2021 and 469 reported in 2020. There was a nominal increase of less than 2 percent from 2019 to 2020. Property crimes include arson, automobile theft, burglary and larceny.
“The City of Beaufort has not seen a rise in crime like so many other cities around the country, and that is a tribute to both our department and our community,” Mayor Stephen Murray said. “I applaud the police department for the quality of its officers, its community outreach efforts, and its commitment to transparency.”
Larceny made up the majority of the 517 reported violent and property crimes in 2021, accounting for 75.8 percent of those crimes. Larceny is generally defined in South Carolina as the unlawful taking of property that belongs to another person, done with the intent to permanently deprive that person of the property.
The department did see a nearly 8 percent increase in the total calls for service in 2021. That number increased from 90,095 to 97,301 year over year. This follows a 9.2 percent increase from 2019 to 2020.
“It’s important to know what a call for service is,” BPD Capt. George Erdel said. “Pretty much anything an officer on patrol does would be counted as a call for service. It doesn’t necessarily mean more bad things happening, per se. It could be more officer initiated things, extra patrols or more car stops. It’s not necessarily a crime. It’s the term we use as a catch all for anything that a patrol officer does that generates documentation.”
The BPD operated on a budget of $4.8 million supporting a force of 48 sworn officers. There are currently eight open officer positions in the department. The number of applications for the department dropped by more than half in 2021 compared to 2020. The 50 applications received in 2021 were barely one-third of the 147 received in 2019.
“I think that reflects trends that are nationwide,” Erdel said. “The media, quite honestly, has done, particularly television and social media, a good number on the viability of this career path. With the job market being what it is, it’s hard for every job now to find good help and we’re not immune to that.”
There were three complaints filed against the BPD in 2021. One incident of reported discrimination was determined to be unfounded. A report of improper conduct was not sustained while a complaint of improper procedure was sustained. The BPD reported 27 incidents of use of force. Two of those incidents involved the use of a Taser, while 25 were classified as empty hand control.
“In a lot of cases, we use less (force) than we would legally be allowed to,” Erdel explained. “Maybe that means we incur a little more risk than we should, maybe. But that’s the call the officer makes at the time. Our officers do the right thing. We only (use force) when we have to. The vast majority of force uses are somebody stiffening up their arm to muscle somebody into cuffs. Over 90 percent of our use of force consists of nothing more than that.”
The Beaufort/Port Royal Fire Department (BPRFD) saw a 4.6 percent increase in call volume from 4,138 calls in 2020 to 4,329 calls in 2021. Call volume for the department has been steadily increasing every year since 2015.
According to BPRFD Fire Chief Tim Ogden, the distribution of service calls by call type has remained fairly consistent in recent years. Medical emergencies make up the majority of the department’s service calls, and in 2021 they accounted for 63.2 percent of BPRFD responses. Working in conjunction with Beaufort County EMS, an engine crew is typically dispatched on medical emergencies to provide additional on-scene resources.
Fires make up less than 2 percent of BPRFD service calls. In 2021, the department responded to 52 fire calls.
“Over the past couple of years, actual buildings on fire probably average 10 a year,” said Ogden. “The other fire incidents are vehicle fires; a bus, an RV, a camper. Actual building on fire, 10 a year is all we have. I credit that to fire prevention, fire inspections and new construction (used) in the modern type home that help keep the building safe.”
The BPRFD has a current staff of 53 professional firefighters augmented by approximately 25 volunteers operating out of four stations. The distribution of calls by station is relatively well balanced.
“I can’t take credit for the plan,” Ogden said. “It was put in place before me, but it’s working great.”
The Central Headquarters Station, located at 135 Ribaut Road, responded to 29 percent of the service calls, while Stations 2 and 3 each responded to 25 percent of the calls. The department’s newest facility, Station 4 located at 571 Robert Smalls Parkway, handled 21 percent of the agency’s calls, but Ogden expects call volume in the area will grow in the coming years.
“That’s where I predict the bulk of the growth will come, and therefore our call volume there will increase more than the other three areas,” he said. “We’re well placed for the next few years from a fire response point where we have that station where it needs to be to match the growth we anticipate over the next few years.”
The department put a new pumper truck into service in 2021, and another is expected to go into service by the end of 2022. According to Ogden, frontline engines have a 10-year service life after which they function as backup units for an additional 10 years.
“Our fire department is committed to the safety of our community, which you can see in its constant training, educational outreach, and excellent response to any emergency,” Murray said.
Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He and his wife enjoy exploring their new home state. He can also frequently be found playing bass guitar with a couple of local bands. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.