By Tony Kukulich
A pair of recent shootings brought City of Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray and Police Chief Dale McDorman in front of city residents last week to hear their concerns about recent incidents of gun violence.
Approximately 50 people gathered at the United Church on the corner of Duke and Hamar streets, just blocks from the locations of those two shootings. The meeting was held jointly by the Northwest Quadrant Neighborhood Association, the Old Commons Neighborhood Association and the Pigeon Point Neighborhood Watch.
“I really think it’s going to be a community-led effort to get a handle on some of these activities,” Murray said in his opening remarks.
Residents anxious for a solution to violence in the city were repeatedly encouraged by both Murray and McDorman to call the police non-emergency dispatch center to report any suspicious activity.
“If you do feel like it’s a critical issue, always feel free to call 9-1-1,” Murray added. “I think the chief will tell you that you’re not bothering law enforcement when you call dispatch or when you call 9-1-1. This is their job. This is what they’re paid to do. They want to hear your concerns before they become real issues.”
There were no reported injuries in the first shooting that occurred March 3. According to a police activity log, officers responded to a report of shots fired near Duke and Bladen streets shortly after 7 p.m. Shell casings were recovered and the rear driver’s side window of a vehicle was struck twice. McDorman told The Island News that an estimated 20 to 30 shots were fired and described the shooting as a “targeted event.”
The second incident had more serious consequences as dozens of shots were fired in the vicinity of the Elks Lodge at 806 Church St., Sunday, March 20 around 8:30 p.m. The shooting left two men injured, and stray bullets struck homes and cars in the immediate area. There were no injuries to bystanders, but residents were clearly rattled by the incident.
“That was not a random event,” McDorman said of the most recent shooting. “I’m very comfortable with that. That was a targeted event. I believe I know who the target was. Here’s my frustration. There were 30 cars in the parking lot right before the shooting started. Two people have talked to us. That was as of right before I came here. It’s not for lack of trying, trust me. Even one of the victims refuses to talk to us.”
According to McDorman, police investigators have not yet been able to determine if these incidents were related.
There have been issues with insufficient security associated with events held at the Elks Lodge in the past, Murray said. In 2015, a shooting there killed one man and injured two others, as was reported by WTOC at the time. In the wake of that shooting, officials from the Elks Lodge agreed to only rent the facility to members. Since that time, Murray said there have been no serious problems.
There was a gathering at the Elks Lodge – a memorial service to mark the passing of a long-time resident of the NWQ – that preceded the shooting. But, McDorman and neighbors who live in the immediate vicinity were adamant that those who manage the facility shared none of the blame for the incident.
McDorman cited a number of frustrations with the court system, many of them relating to the need for more terms of court, which is the time during which courts hear cases. There are currently 12 one-week terms on court in the 14th Solicitor’s District.
“You need to have more court, first and foremost,” he said. “You will not find a cop in this community that thinks any prosecutor in this world is doing his job, because we wouldn’t arrest them if they weren’t guilty. But that’s the way we look at it.”
Adding more court terms would mean that cases would go to trial more quickly and reduce the backlog of pending cases. It could also get violent criminals off the streets faster.
“My guys are tired of arresting guys with ankle bracelets on,” McDorman said.
Chief among the residents’ concerns was the difficulty experienced while trying to get information about police activity.
“We can’t get information about an incident,” said one NWQ resident. “I’d like to know when it’s safe for me to get up off the floor. One of the shootings was right in front of my house, 30 rounds or something. … When can I get up? When is it over?”
A press release for the Sunday night incident was not issued until the following Tuesday, a communication failure that McDorman acknowledged and for which he accepted responsibility. He also committed to putting the department’s daily activity log on its Facebook page. That information has been available on the city’s website, though he also admitted that finding it required some effort.
The city does maintain a Nixle account, a service that provides real-time notifications of public safety concerns to those who subscribe to the service, but the system requires someone to issue an alert.
“Somebody has to be able to take a break and put that Nixle out, which we’re dealing with,” McDorman said. “We think we have a solution. We are looking at a more interactive notification software (product) that can maybe do some of these things. We’re working on a schedule to have 24-hour, real-time posting of things as they occur.”
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.