Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island have had a longstanding invalid mutual aid agreement. Neither island has had a valid agreement since 2012.
Mutual aid agreements between neighboring cities and towns legally authorize municipal agencies to provide emergency assistance in the form of personnel, equipment, materials, etc. The primary objective is to facilitate immediate, short-term support prior to, during and after an incident.
“We actually go assist them more than they come assist us, but we legally cannot do that right now unless it’s an officer’s safety who’s calling for assistance without a valid mutual aid agreement,” said Isle of Palms Police Chief Kevin Cornett.
Sullivan’s Island inquired about the mutual aid agreement prior to Cornett joining IOPPD in June. Just over a month under Cornett’s control and the administrative process is underway on an oversight that has been ongoing for seven years.
“I think it was probably just one of those things that lapsed over time that nobody honestly saw,” said Andy Benke, Sullivan’s Island Town Administrator. “One of those things that slipped through the cracks.”
Benke concurred with Cornett that due to the agreement’s invalidity, if an officer makes an arrest on the island opposite his or her jurisdiction, it’s not “technically legal.” In fact, it’s an illegal infringement of a person’s Civil Rights.
“It just got overlooked. There’s no issue between the two municipalities; it’s just getting the agreement up to date,” Benke added. “We’re just thankful to have them next door and I hope they feel the same way about us.”
Benke noted how crucial a valid agreement is, particularly during an inundating state of affairs such as a hurricane where one island may depend on the other to cover its jurisdiction.
Historically, it was customary for agencies to update their mutual aid agreements any time there was a departmental change, such as a new police chief. Due to South Carolina Emergency Management Division’s law change in 2016, any mutual aid agreement prior is no longer valid because they’re stating laws that are no longer enact, according to Cornett.
Currently, Isle of Palms only has valid mutual aid agreements with Mount Pleasant and the City of Charleston. Sullivan’s Island has an automatic aid agreement with Mount Pleasant as well, in which they receive aid instantly versus requesting.
In regards to the timing of the joint decision to renew their mutual aid agreement, Cornett stated it’s simply a legal-binding document that covers both municipalities’ agencies.
“We’re both in this together, we both have have the same type of issues to protect our community, we have to work together to accomplish a common goal,” he added.
Isle of Palms Public Safety Committee unanimously passed the agreement on July 3, the agreement will be brought to council on July 23. Upon passage, Sullivan’s Island is expected to begin the same course of proceedings in August.