For the 12th time in six years, Bluffton is one of the safest cities in South Carolina, according to a variety of security system and real estate websites.
The most recent listing by Safety.com ranks Bluffton as No. 1. The town was also ranked No. 1 by Home Safety Advisor and HomeSnacks.com. A number of other similar organizations have rated the town in the top five safest.
At the time of the most recent ranking, Bluffton had the lowest poverty rate and the second-lowest unemployment rate on the list.
Capt. Scott Chandler, who heads the Bluffton Police Department Support Services Division, said the biggest thing that has helped has been the support of the government, the town staff and the community that enables the police to do their jobs.
“I think the town has been very forward thinking, especially in anticipating the needs of the town, the growth and the department,” Chandler said. “Basically it’s the partnership that we have formed in the community that helps keep us so safe.”
The numerous organizations give Bluffton its high safety rankings based on examination of detailed government data. Safety.com, for example, references FBI reports on property, violent and hate crimes, and aggravated assaults.
Information on officer-related shootings and mass shootings comes from statistics gathered in the Gun Violence Archive, an online collection of gun violence reports from more than 7,500 law enforcement, media, government and commercial sources.
Safety.com also evaluated the town’s financial security by examining socioeconomic factors collected by the U.S. Census Bureau: cost of living, rent, unemployment, poverty level, the numbers of those employed and unemployed without health insurance.
Another aspect evaluated was the South Carolina’s natural disaster risks and public health ratings compared to other states.
In 2010, Bluffton’s population was 12,893. According to the 2019 Census, the population more than doubled by 2019 to 25,557 residents. Another population date web site, World Population Review, estimates the 2020 statistic is even higher at 28,247. Protecting the burgeoning town has become an even greater responsibility with an annual population growth of 10%.
“I think the department is very well rounded in the relationships we formed. There are the school resources officers and their relationships with the teachers and the students. We have relationships with local businesses, especially in Old Town,” Chandler said. “And I think one of the most important is our relationships with the local churches. We couldn’t do it by ourselves. It’s mutually beneficial. We help the churches out but they help us out because they have a much greater reach throughout the community.”
Working with and within the various entities that make up Bluffton has helped the police department protect the community.
“A lot of those relationships we have formed enables us to have an open line of communication. It’s very important for the police department to hear and understand what the community is thinking,” he said.
In addition to patrolling the community, serving in the schools and responding to calls, the BPD has several programs open to the community that have brought together all kinds of people for fun, food and information.
“With the partnerships we form, the community takes part in the programs we have,” Chandler said. “There’s the Citizens Police Academy. There’s the Cookout with Cops. And especially the community comes out in droves to National Night Out every year … except in COVID year. I’ve never seen a community that is so involved, that truly cares about what goes on in the community. They want to make it better. It’s not the police department that is doing all of this; it truly is a community effort.”
The BPD’s programs include not just those Chandler mentioned but also – in normal times – Bluffton Safety Day, an annual event where the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Bluffton Township Fire District provide displays and hands-on activities for the community; a law enforcement Explorer Program for young adults; the holiday Shop with a Cop; and the annual Town of Bluffton toy drive.
As Chandler said, the department’s work depends upon partnerships and a lot of the success comes from the community’s efforts. And it is the community that will continue to make it a success.
“We ask that the community continue to support its police department. They have to hold us to task,” said Chandler. “If they see something that we’re doing that needs improvement, they need to tell us so we can improve on that. They need to be critics of the police department as well as supporters.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.