The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office is partnering with the Bluffton Police Department and state agencies to create an environmental-crimes unit.
The new team will police land and water to combat litter and boating violations, Sheriff P.J. Tanner announced at a news conference Tuesday at the Bluffton Oyster Co. The other partners are the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
"We have always taken for granted our waterways to a degree," Tanner said. "But we need to do a better job, not only as citizens but law enforcement, to have a big impact and protect our environment."
Tanner said the need for environmental-crime enforcement has increased as the number of residents and visitors, particularly in the Bluffton area, has grown.
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Common violations include littering, illegal dumping of car batteries and tires, boating violations, and hunting violations, DNR Capt. Gentry Thames said.
The new unit started to come together about three months ago, Tanner said, and will save the agencies money as they combine equipment and resources.
It will be composed of four sheriff's deputies, a combination of the Sheriff's Office's previous litter unit and marine-patrol unit. It will work with two Bluffton police officers, seven DNR law enforcement officers and three DHEC officers. The DNR and DHEC officers already were working in Beaufort County.
The agencies and units will remain separate, but will cooperate to solve and prevent environmental crimes, Sheriff's Office Sgt. Robin McIntosh said. Investigations will be directed by the agency closest to the crime scene or with the best knowledge and resources to solve the case, she said.
"We've got a big amount of water and land in Beaufort County, and all the agencies have limited resources to cover it," Bluffton Police Chief Joey Reynolds said. "But by pulling all our resources together, we can support each other and have more visibility."
Thames said he hopes that increased visibility will deter violations.
"There is a lot of public and private land out there, and people are utilizing these areas for both good and bad," Thames said. "But with more eyes and ears out there, it strengthens the force and amplifies our efforts."
Others in attendance at Tuesday's event were officials from the Beaufort County Open Land Trust and the Beaufort County Planning Department. Bluffton Town Councilmen Michael Raymond and Ted Huffman also attended and said they support the formation of the new unit.
All agencies encourage residents to report violations to Crime Stoppers at 888-274-6372 or to DNR's Operation Game Thief at 800-922-5431.Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.