NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – North Myrtle Beach Public Safety Chief Phil Webster is stepping down from his post after 25 years of employment with the city. He started wearing the North Myrtle Beach badge in 1992, after a friend suggested he apply for an open patrol officer’s position, and he did.
Chief Webster is a Myrtle Beach native, graduate of the University of South Carolina and Marine Corps veteran. In an interview with WMBF News, he said he didn’t think he’d return to Myrtle Beach after college. However, he started in the North Myrtle Beach Public Safety Department in April 1992, and began his climb to chief when he accepted his first supervising position as corporal in 1996.
However, he said some of his favorite memories are from his time on the streets on patrol, or as part of North Myrtle Beach’s former SWAT team.
“You know people were using pay phones…and we managed to track this lady down to where they were holding this little boy at, and SWAT team did an entry into this room and we got the kid back. So I mean, I’ll never forget that, I mean, that was unreal because I was the first one through the door in actually the bedroom…where they were actually holding him at,” the chief said when reflecting on one of his proudest moments, safely returning a kidnapped child to his mother.
He said the department’s changed immensely since his days on patrol.
“When I first started, you weren’t encouraged to investigate the crimes you came across. You know, you took a report, you turned it over to investigations and they took it. But now, of course, we encourage our guys and girls to get out there and solve cases,” the chief said. “But we’re also training them as crime scene investigators on the squad level to be able to do their own finger printing…and that’s stuff when I was on patrol unit we just didn’t do,” he continued.
As a public safety department, the chief also fought fires for a month before sticking to the police side. Chief Webster said the department has grown from about 50 officers to almost 90 since he started. He’s most proud of the community policing model, police training model and never drawing his gun during his tenure.
“I’ve been fortunate over my years as far as dealing with people, I’ve been able to talk to people and really, I think, prevent a lot of situations that could’ve gone very badly by treating people respectfully and professionally…even if they’ve done something wrong…you know, very bad wrong, just treat them like a human being and give them that respect and it’s amazing how things can come out differently,” Chief Webster told WMBF News.
Webster went to Louisville, Ky first to train at the Southern Police Institute and learn about the success and techniques of community policing. He remains involved with the institute. Since then, he sends command level officers there each year for the same training. He also said he utilizes available research to improve policing and patrol unit strategies, known as the police training model. He hopes his successor does so as well.
“So you have to do the best with what you have, and you really have to base that on some proven principals…something that’s articulate and science-based…to show ‘hey this is why I’m doing this’…because somebody actually studied this…and I think if you do that, you’ve really got something going there.”
The challenges he leaves for his successor are to continue the department’s growth and evolve with technology as it changes policing. He said he’s witnessed the department function well in his absence during a crisis, and is confident it will continue to do so.
“There’s a lot invested, I mean, professionally and personally…watching officers grow and my own growth with them,” the chief said.
He told WMBF News he doesn’t know what’s next, but he’s not ready to permanently retire yet. He will host the Southern Police Institute Alumni Association in North Myrtle Beach in July.
Webster’s retirement will become effective on June 16. Since then, he has held the positions of corporal, sergeant, lieutenant and captain.
Webster served as police chief for 3.5 years.
“When you reach a point where you can retire, you begin to weigh your options,” he said in a statement. “I began contemplating my future with the department over a year ago. I have considered my choices and made a decision that will be best for my family and me.”
The search for a new chief will begin in the fall, according to the release. In the interim, officers will report directly to Public Safety Director Jay Fernandez.
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