The Trouble With Myrtle Beach....

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Did you see the wire story out of Myrtle Beach last week? The Sun News reported that 83 percent of people arrested for committing violent crimes in Horry County live in the area.

That may not be important to you (unless you live in Horry County, of course), but it must have given heartburn to a lot of tourism and Chamber of Commerce types in the land north of here. You see, Horry County has long been ranked among the most violent and crime-ridden areas in the nation. The latest compilation of crime stats from CQ Press found the Myrtle Beach metropolitan area, which includes all of Horry County, to be the 14th most dangerous place in the nation. It's been that way for a long, long time.

For reasons that are not clear to me -- nor to anyone else I am aware of -- the powers that be in the Myrtle Beach area like to excuse their bad image by saying that most of that crime and violence are the result of the 14 million tourists who deluge the Grand Strand each year.

That was the way I reported it in my 2003 book, Banana Republic: A Year in the Heart of Myrtle Beach. Sure it's violent, I wrote, but what do you expect with all those drunk and crazy tourists in town? I wrote it because everybody said it and there was no evidence to the contrary. But I did include this caveat: What difference does it make whether you are mugged by a local or by a tourist? It's going to ruin your day, if not your vacation -- or worse. The problem is too much crime in Myrtle Beach, not who is committing it.

Now we know the truth. The Sun News analyzed some 14,000 booking reports at the county jail and came back with the 83 percent solution.

So what does that mean for locals and vacationers in Myrtle Beach? Nothing, really, except that local authorities can no longer blame the town's bad image on tourists. And to me, as the amateur social psychologist, it begs the question -- Why are there so many violent people in Myrtle Beach?

I tried to answer that question in Banana Republic, where I wrote: "Police said criminals on the lam came to the Grand Strand because their out-of-state license plates did not draw a second glance in this tourist mecca. Perhpas they were right, but I suspect the town's growing reputation as a wide-open, anything-goes environemnt was an irresistable draw to those who lived on the edge of the law. People come here, after all, to play, to relax, to drop their inhibitions for a few days. For many, the next stop is the booking room at the Law Enforcement Center."

All true in 2003 and still true today. But clearly some of those violent visitors decide to make Myrtle Beach their home. There is something about Myrtle Beach's Disneyland-for-adults atmosphere, coupled with its violent southern culture that makes for a toxic stew. I wouldn't discourage anyone from going there. It's still a great town and I visit there several times a year. But I am careful where I go and who I mingle with. I hope you will be, too.

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