Lieutenant Heather Wilson sets the standard of how hard work pays off
Heather Wilson was recently promoted in rank to lieutenant for the Horry County Police Department–only the fourth female in Horry County’s history to boast the title–and the path to get here, of course, wasn’t without its share of ups and downs.
Growing up in Virginia, Wilson didn’t have any footsteps of former police officers in the family to follow, so she paved her own way from about the age of 2.
“I would stay with my grandparents a lot… and my grandpa would make handcuffs out of this piece of grass and I would arrest people,” she laughs. “I would even put my grandfather in jail, which was the bathroom.”
Fast-forward to her early teens, and Wilson joined the local Police Explorer program, which had her and the group of mostly boys directing traffic, working parades and riding with police officers.
“On the weekends, when all my friends were going out, I wanted to go ride with police officers,” she says.
From there, Wilson was all in, full-force. She was hired as a police officer in her hometown of Danville, Virginia, at 19 (her nickname was “Kindergarten Cop”) and graduated from the police academy in 2000, the same year she earned her associate’s degree in administration of justice from the Danville Community College.
In 2004, she moved to Myrtle Beach with her former husband and two children, got a job with the City of Myrtle Beach Police Department, and began climbing the ranks. Wilson started as a detention officer for the city, transferred to Horry County in 2005, and was promoted to crime scene investigator the following year. She held this position until 2014, when she then became a homicide detective. Along the way, Wilson has been heavily involved on the negotiation team and Peer Team leader for the county as part of the South Carolina First Responder Assistance program.
“When an officer is involved in a traumatic incident, either on duty or off duty, the Peer Team goes out and assists those officers,” she explains. “We offer different resources to help them back to their new normal.”
Wilson was involved as a detective in a critical officer-involved shooting in 2014, which landed her on the Peer Team.
“My partner and I went to go arrest the subject and he pulled out a gun on my partner,” she says. “We were fighting in the doorway and he put the gun in my partner’s chest and I fired twice. My partner survived, the subject did not. … Despite what anybody says or reads, no police officer wants to take a life. And that’s something I have had to deal with and my children have had to as well.”
For that courageous act, Wilson received several awards, including Officer of the Year and an Award of Valor for the agency, a Lifesaving Award from the Coastal Carolina Shield, and an award from the VFW.
Wilson, 41, was promoted to sergeant in 2016 and most recently to lieutenant; she also earned her bachelor’s in administration of justice from Columbia Southern University.
“I grew up as a tomboy, and I never looked at things like I’m a woman and I’m treated differently,” she says. “Looking back, I can see where I did have to work harder sometimes. Maybe it wasn’t that everyone around me wanted to see me work harder, but I worked harder because I didn’t want that label put on me, you know? Like, ‘Oh, well she’s a female, so she can’t do that.’ I kind of pushed myself on my own. … I don’t use the fact that I’m a woman as a crutch.”
This mother of three obviously hasn’t pioneered her way through her career by making excuses, claiming she’s perfect, or resting on her laurels.
“No one’s perfect. I’ve made mistakes,” says Wilson. “You have to own things and take responsibility and make decisions, and then, if you make a decision, own it. It shows that you’re still human.... We are held to a higher standard. I think people sometimes think that we should be robots, kind of like a pastor should be perfect, but it’s not reality. We all make mistakes, but what matters is how someone responds to that."