Deputy brings reporter on Christmas Eve ride-along

  • Friday, January 3, 2014

Anita Crone/For the Times Deputy Karl Tanner is at home in his patrol car, where everything he needs is close at hand.

Karl Tanner may be the first man you want to see in Murrells Inlet or the last.

He knows the Georgetown County side of the Inlet like few others — the roads, the people, the nooks and crannies. Locked doors open for him, windows roll down — hesitantly at times.

His familiarity with his adopted home would make him an ideal tour guide or real estate agent — he is intimately aware of what’s for sale and what’s vacant, what roads lead in and out of hard to get to subdivisions or gated communities that sit forbidden to all but residents or guests.

Most people never see Tanner, and those who do may not always be welcoming. That’s fine with him. He knows that comes with the job.

Tanner is a Georgetown County Sheriff’s deputy, and his territory is Murrells Inlet.

On Christmas Eve, when most people were putting together toys for the children, heading to church, or preparing for the next day’s festivities, Tanner was doing what he does four days — or nights, depending on his shift — a week, driving the roads of the Inlet, doing his best to ensure the people who live there are safe.

While most of the time Georgetown’s deputies work alone, the department does offer opportunities for residents to ride along with a deputy as part of the community policing stressed by longtime Sheriff A. Lane Cribb.

Most of Tanner’s work is done alone, although he has plenty of backup. He drives his car solo, a computer, radio and cell phone his only companion.

His dog and fiancee are at his Murrells Inlet condo, waiting for him to sign off for the day.

“You know,” he said in response to the question about his popularity because of his job, “I understand that people like to see the fire trucks, the ambulances. My lights, not so much.”

His lights on Christmas were rare. In an eight-hour ride, he used them four times. Mostly, his approach is much quieter. He’ll stop at a house for a welfare check in response to a radio request, knock firmly on the door, ensure everything is as it should be, and head back out on patrol.

He has a routine, but each day is different, he says.

He’ll drive the perimeter of the Georgetown County side of the Inlet, unless, as on Christmas Eve, he gets a call.

His response is measured as he interviews a complainant, a witness and the person who is accused, writing down each person’s version of the event.

He will transfer the information to an official form later, speaking rather than typing the information.

“It’s faster,” he said, giving a nod to technology. His car is equipped with a computer, a radio and a cell phone, not to mention the tools of his trade — a shotgun, clipboard with required forms, pens, flashlight, organizer.

When he’s not doing a ride-along, everything is in the front passenger seat or behind him, within easy access.

Tanner didn’t intend to become a police officer. He wanted to become a lawyer, but after four years at The Citadel and the law school admission test, he opted for a different path. He began work at the Georgetown County Detention Center on Sept. 3, 2010, but while he says there was much he liked, he wanted a more hands-on approach.

“It was an easy transition to the road,” he said now, a little more than two years after becoming a deputy. As for the law, “I’ve seen it from the other side. This is better.”

While Tanner rides alone, he’s not really alone. There are two supervisors on each shift, and five other deputies on the road, each covering a different zone. Then there are the fellow law enforcement officers — state troopers, officers from other departments.

They are all in contact with each other. And when there is a need, they are there for each other.

While not common, it is not rare for departments and officers to handle calls together. For instance, a party that gets out of hand may have potential to escalate, but the responders will not know until they arrive. So it’s better to be prepared.

On Christmas Eve, the situation was easily handled; each of the officers working as part of a team. Afterward, they met up for coffee, teasing each other with the easy familiarity of comrades.

They know each other well. The state trooper lived down the hall from him when he was training to become a police officer, the Pawleys Island officer works a similar shift and his supervisor came along to ensure there were no problems.

Most of the time, though, Tanner handles the unroutine routinely. He knows his area, and if something doesn’t look right, he’ll investigate. Two men walking along Old Kings Highway were stopped and talked to, a driver with a burned out headlight was stopped, too, but was quickly sent on his way after explaining he was a minister late for church and a promise to get the headlight fixed.

Then it’s back to the road for Tanner, who is doing what he wants. He knows he’ll spend Christmas Day at home and then he’ll be back on the road, keeping the ones he loves safe.

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