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HOLDEN BEACH—The change of seasons is beginning in Holden Beach, not just winter to spring but snowbirds to tourists.
Police Chief Wally Layne said at the March 12 town meeting the spring break college students have begun to arrive.
It’s also the start of the busy season for Layne’s department.
“Once the season begins, the call volume changes, traffic increases, more folks are on the beach—all the things associated with a tourist town,” Layne said.
“It’s unique policing a barrier island because for a large portion of the year you have full-time residents, but from Memorial Day to Labor Day you get 20,000 in and out week to week,” Layne said.
“You do not know what you are going to get from one week to the next.”
What won’t change is the police force will patrol the island with eight officers, Layne said.
“In a perfect world, we’d have 10,” he said.
The department had 10 officers in the past, but the economy affected the town budget, which meant when Layne lost an officer in each of the past two years, he couldn’t replace them.
This year, he’d like to hang onto what he’s got.
As budget season arrives with tourist season, Layne said the department is in good shape and he expects to maintain the same budget as last year.
“I hope my guys can get a raise, but that is not in my control,” he said.
The town manager began a vehicle-rotation program that replaced two police cruisers last year.
Layne hopes to replace two more vehicles but knows other departments are also due.
Still, he continues to push for changeover from patrol cruisers, like a Crown Victoria, to 4-wheel-drive trucks that can travel on the beach sand.
“You can’t get a Crown Vic on the beach,” he said.
The town has five trucks now, and Layne would like to switch out the last few cars.
Layne also said the expectations of the people are different in a town like Holden Beach.
“If you live in Charlotte, you’ve probably never spoken to the police chief,” Layne said.
“Here, people pick up the phone and call me.”
Layne said communication is important, which is why the town has a website, with the phone line listed on it, and why the town manager, mayor and he attend the quarterly property owners association meetings.
“People have my number, the department number and 911,” Layne said.
“I’m not hard to get ahold of.”
The main issue the police force has had to deal with in the off-season is crimes of opportunity, such as breaking and entering.
But officers have seen more organized breaking and entering crimes in recent months.
They have been able to resolve those issues with the help of the Sheriff’s South End Task Force.
The sheriff’s office and police departments from Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach, Shallotte and Oak Island share information on similar crimes reported in each area.
“We share the same problems; we share the same suspects,” Layne said.
Usually they have local suspects to pursue, but Layne said in the past year Holden Beach has had more criminal activity from people out of the area involved in crimes.
A group of thieves hit homes from Georgetown, S.C., up the coast, breaking into houses specifically for flat-screen televisions until they were caught in Caswell Beach.
Then Holden Beach was one of the towns hit by a group that would look for unlocked parked cars to go after anything left inside, including GPS devices and purses.
Layne said the suspects were caught in Boiling Spring Lakes.
Layne told the Holden Beach town board the “Battery Bandit” was recently caught.
“From North Myrtle Beach to Oak Island, he was stealing batteries from golf carts, or anywhere, and taking them to Wilmington to sell for 50 cents a pound,” Layne said.
He said the bandit even took an aluminum boat and trailer, cut them up and sold the metal to a scrap yard.
“Since his arrest, it’s been fairly quiet—for the moment,” Layne said.
Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or email@example.com.