Longtime IOP police chief retires, reflects on career

Isle of Palms, S.C. (WCIV) — It's touted as one of South Carolina's safest towns but the tide is changing on the Isle of Palms.

The city has been under the watch of the same police chief for 23 years. Next month, Chief Tom Buckhannon is retiring.

It wasn't an easy decision, but a health scare several years ago forced him to re-evaluate his life.

A week after his 48-year-old brother died from a heart attack, he went in for his own medical evaluation and learned his arteries were clogged. Days later, he underwent a triple bypass.

"It could have been an hour, a couple hours, a couple days, or a week, but it was a matter of, I was going to die," Buckhannon said.

Even though Isle of Palms is a wildly popular vacation destination, Buckhannon said he hasn't had a summer off in 37 years, the total amount of time he's been on the force.

During his tenure, he's weathered a lot. He'll never forget working during Hurricane Hugo, the devastating hurricane that hit the Charleston coast in 1989.

"Oh, it was chaos, it was like a war zone," Buckhannon said. "It was not a fun time immediately afterwards. I can remember when we got back over here, there were spots—and I grew up here—there were spots I didn't recognize."

Buckhannon is most proud of turning the once tiny police department into a nationally accredited agency for 18 years and counting. Accreditation is a long, arduous process he began almost two decades ago.

"To get recognized as a department that's been accredited for that long is one of the crowning moments of my career," he said.

"Isle of Palms will miss him as a police chief and miss him as a friend," said Mayor Jimmy Carroll. "This is a big one, this is the future of Isle of Palms. When you have somebody who has been with us for 37 years, that says something great about a community."

Buckhannon will trade in his police cruiser for an RV. He said it's already gassed up and ready for a road trip across the country.

In the meantime, Carroll said the search is on to fill the chief's spot. He said the city hired an agency to conduct a lengthy national search for the right candidate.

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