Andrew Dys

Fort Mill has discovered -- with growth comes crime

FORT MILL -- Nobody has to sell Fort Mill. The area sells itself.

It's the fastest-growing school district in the state because of excellent schools coupled with highway access and proximity to good jobs in Charlotte, and even Fort Mill and Rock Hill.

So in the past decade, Fort Mill Township, the area north and west of the town of Fort Mill up to the state line, has changed drastically. Tens of thousands of new residents. Hundreds of new businesses.

When York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant was elected 11 years ago, Baxter Village didn't exist. Now, thousands of new people live there, and businesses have thrived there. There are huge housing developments along S.C. 160, Gold Hill Road and in Regent Park.

"It's a city in itself," Bryant said of the township.

And with that growth has come what nobody wants: The need for police service. Fort Mill is a great place to live, but it isn't heaven.

In a place where so many new people live and work, knuckleheads will break into cars and pry open doors. Dope deals will go down, and scoundrels will lurk near convenience stores near the state line. It happens.

Fort Mill is not a haven for crime. But with a "shocking change from growth," as Bryant puts it, comes those who will try and run a hustle.

Of the 10 most busy areas for police calls in York County, five are in Fort Mill Township, barely more than farmland a generation ago, Bryant said. The area in the county that generates the most calls for service -- reported crimes, problems or requests to talk to an officer, or police-generated action from witnessing problems or crimes while on patrol -- is the Carowinds Boulevard area near the state line, Bryant said.

Second is the area around S.C. 160 and Gold Hill Road. Third is the area around S.C. 51 and U.S. 21 near the state line.

The same areas where nice homes have been built and are being built all the time. Where companies have invested millions and created jobs.

All deserve protection, and it appears they are getting it.

When anybody talks about moving somewhere, or staying somewhere, the most important factors are schools, quality of life and public safety. Will the police and fire and ambulance services take care of me?

In Fort Mill, police have stepped up patrols by 400 percent in just a decade. Bryant deserves credit for sticking up for the newest people of York County.

A single officer per shift was assigned to the entire Fort Mill Township 10 years ago. Now, there are four officers per shift. There is a sheriff's office substation on U.S. 21 inside the York Electric Cooperative building.

Lt. Rusty Helms, in charge of the property crimes unit, has two detectives specifically assigned to Fort Mill Township.

Why does all this matter? Because in Fort Mill Township, all those new people, and the politicians elected to lead for them, need to keep fighting for their fair share of resources.

As York County grows further, one fact should ring true because it's at the center of controversy over garbage dumps and roads and schools: Whether somebody has lived here six months or 60 years, all are taxpayers. New people deserve the same quality of life as those whose great-grandparents settled here.

The arrest of four men and seizure of two pipe bombs in the township recently on allegations the men planned to bomb a Charlotte school as a diversion to rob a bank stunned people in the area along U.S. 21 and in the neighborhoods off the highway. Neighbors fretted and wondered what the heck is going on.

A great guy named Jon Blankenship, in that area all his life and a business and homeowner there, told me, "This doesn't happen in little old Fort Mill."

But it did. It affects him and the guy who moved in last week just the same.

I live a half-mile from where those bombs were found. My kids and hundreds more get on school buses that drive within 100 yards of that house.

Swift police action kept anything from happening, and everybody I have talked to nearby is thankful. Me, too.