Gang and youth violence a priority for CPD's new chief - - Columbia, South Carolina

Gang and youth violence a priority for CPD's new chief

Dr. Jeff Rojek presents study to city council Dr. Jeff Rojek presents study to city council

Columbia's police chief says gang and youth violence is a priority for his department.

"This is certainly a priority for us," said Chief Skip Holbrook at a council work session Tuesday afternoon. Council members had questions for Holbrook after they were provided with an Assessment of Youth and Gang Violence in Columbia and Richland County.

The study was completed through a partnership with the University of South Carolina and Benedict College.

Although he said the study was based on "old data," USC's Dr. Jeff Rojek said the results were "not necessarily unique to Columbia."

The study was conducted in 2008, but it was presented to council again at the request of a council member who was not a member of council in 2008.

Rojek said young gang members arrested for crimes in Columbia also were committing similar crimes Richland County. Rojek is a former Los Angeles police officer who specializes in gangs.

"There is a considerable amount of overlap and a need to integrate intelligence," he said. City and county law enforcement need to "pool their resources together to make it work."

Study authors suspect gang activity has spread since the study was done in 2008, but they need to collect additional data.

Councilman Moe Baddourah says he doesn't need a study to tell him that.

"They're in every neighborhood now," he said.

"I'd love to see some updated data, and kind of see where we are," Mayor Steve Benjamin said. "That data has to drive your decision-making process."

Researchers are trying to use social media to gather gang intelligence.

The study presented gang programs that have been successful in other cities, such as Trenton, New Jersey and Boston, Massachusetts.

"Typically these programs have a full-time coordinator," said Rojek.

"Coordinators are important for this," said Holbrook. "You gotta have somebody in charge. It's important we're always identifying emerging threats. We've got a great internal system but we're not using it in the capacity it could be used."

"We're not going to ask you for any more money," Holbrook told council. "We've got to hire people to be able to address this."

Right now, Columbia's gang unit has six officers, but Holbrook is in the process of restructuring the department.

"We're focusing on the worst of the worst" he said. "We can certainly manage it and be effective in our policing."

Holbrook also said he's confident his department and the sheriff's office can effectively work together on the problem.

"There is a great sense of cooperation in this region," he said.

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