Coronavirus adds extra duties to usual SLED fare of murder, arson and shootings

·4 min read

They are in Chester County on the hunt for bad guys, in Dillon helping nab a murder suspect and in Florence County, breaking up an impromptu concert that attracted a huge crowd in spite of the governor’s coronavirus ban on large gatherings.

All across South Carolina, some 400 State Law Enforcement Division agents are doing what they always do — assisting counties’ and local law enforcement departments’ efforts to put the clamps on trouble.

“We’re a law enforcement agency — we have to be open for business, and we are,” said SLED Chief Mark Keel Monday, who is notified of all significant incidents throughout the day and gets a crime briefing each morning.

But these days, the coronavirus pandemic has given SLED a few extra missions because of Gov. Henry McMaster’s orders last week limiting public gatherings to no more than 50 people at public facilities and ordering restaurants and bars to stop indoor dining and drinking. On Monday, McMaster banned groups of three or more people from gathering in public.

Mark Keel
Mark Keel

Last week, for example, SLED agents were at Huntington Island State Park and Myrtle Beach State Park to disperse crowds.

“We got people on Edisto Beach today (Monday) helping the Edisto Beach police department, and we sent people to Beaufort yesterday to help Beaufort County because they had large groups of people gathering on sand bars,” said Keel.

“Saturday night, we sent 31 SLED agents, triple P (S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon), Department of Natural Resources and state troopers to Florence County to break up a concert at an ATV park. There were supposedly about 3,500 people there. So yes, we are active.”

In times of emergencies, when extra officers are needed, SLED acts as a coordinating agency that has the power to pull law enforcement officers from other agencies

In dispersing crowds, Keel said, “everybody’s been very cooperative. But with some, we’ve had to go back and tell them two or three different times. I don’t think we’ve had to arrest anybody at this point.”

Meanwhile, SLED has carried out its usual wide range of missions and ongoing investigations, including in recent days:

An officer-involved shooting in Anderson County.

A child fatality in Chesterfield County.

“Crime suppression” in Chester County, where bad actors have been shooting up places for days.

An arson call in Spartanburg County.

Chester County acting sheriff Max Dorsey, a former SLED agent, said he and his department are glad SLED sent agents to beef up his patrols.

For some time, shooters believed to be part of neighborhood gangs have been a menace, shooting in the air, hitting a house and “someone was hit Thursday night.”

The shootings have taken place within a four-mile radius of Chester, and while he’s implemented a number of measures, such as community meetings, to combat with the issue, he called SLED last week to get some help, Dorsey said.

“We’re a small rural department. We have limited resources and limited officers and a lot of area to cover,” said Dorsey, who is grateful for SLED’s help in sending agents to beef up the approximately five deputies his department puts on the road at night. “We’re all very appreciative.”

Myrtle Beach police chief Amy Prock said Monday that SLED agents have been helpful in making sure the city’s numerous bars and restaurants observe the governor’s coronavirus orders.

”They’ve been helping us with compliance checks on our businesses,” Prock said. “They are a great partner to us..”

For the most part, the 400 SLED agents are dispersed across the state and work out of their homes, so they don’t go into a workplace where they congregate in clusters, Keel said.

At SLED headquarters in Columbia, there are some core missions where employees are still reporting for duty. That includes the agency’s communications employees, crime lab experts and the criminal justice information center.

So far, none of SLED’s total workforce of 710 has tested positive for coronavirus.

“Not that I know of,” said Keel. “Hope it stays that way.”

“Crime’s not stopping, and our work isn’t either,” Keel said.

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