Interim Chief: Crime down 17 percent, but police force shrinking - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Interim Chief: Crime down 17 percent, but police force shrinking

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Interim Chief Ruben Santiago Interim Chief Ruben Santiago

Interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago won't be heading the department much longer.

He's not among the final three candidates under consideration by City Manager Teresa Wilson who said last night she plans to name a chief by next week at the latest.

Santiago is in charge until then and today delivered both encouraging and troubling news to the city council's public safety committee: crime is down citywide nearly 17 percent, he said, but the police force is shrinking. Fourteen officers have left since mid-January.

Santiago admits some of the attrition is likely due to the department's internal strife. Some of it involving him.

"When you look at some of the controversial things, specifically with me, it's embarrassing," said Santiago. "I know that when you dress in this uniform, there's a lot of pride that's instilled. I still maintain the fact these are conversations that I never thought would come to the public's light, but they have. So you gotta deal with that as it comes. I can only put myself in the shoes of these officers when they look at some of the things said negatively about the police department, and you have to ask yourself if you want to be apart of that."

That controversy aside, a spokesman for the department's Police Benevolent Association cited pay issues as a factor driving Columbia officers to other jobs.

The city manager attended Tuesday afternoon's meeting. Committee member Cameron Runyan did not.

On Monday, Runyan called on Wilson to stop her search for a new chief, allowing the council to begin exploring the idea of asking Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott to supervise the city department.

The Runyan proposal will be debated at a special called council meeting Wednesday evening at 5:30 p.m. -- a meeting called to discuss consolidation of the city police department's public safety "function" with the Richland County Sheriff's Department.

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