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Columbia Police plan 'fair and equal' enforcement of child safety zone ordinance

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

At this point, every park in Columbia including Roy Lynch Park is open to everyone, but that could change soon.

"We've found drug paraphernalia in the park," Columbia City Councilman Cameron Runyan said, "needles in the park, there's prostitution and the remnants of that going on in the park. I, myself, witness a sex offender charging their ankle bracelet at the power outlet in the park."

With safety of children in mind, Columbia City Council voted 3-2 to pass an ordinance that will allow child safety zones in city parks.

Runyan says he's already working on an ordinance that would make all of Roy Lynch Park and parts of others off-limits to anyone older than 12 who is not a child's guardian. However, the question of if Columbia Police will be able to enforce that measure.

"We would enforce it just like any other ordinance or law," Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said. "If we see a violation, we would enforce it."

Holbrook said his department is still waiting to see which direction council goes, but he says his officers will enforce any child safety zones that are established.

"It's important that we enforce all the laws fair and equal," Holbrook said, "and that's what you'll see from the police department."

However, some have concerns that the ordinance could open the door for profiling. The American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina says that the measure could lend itself to discrimination.

"Anytime you have some type of ordinance or law that would give law enforcement an additional tool to stop and engage someone in an investigative detention," Holbrook explained, "it would certainly come under scrutiny."

Holbrook says the ordinance could mean additional training and instruction for officers.

"We have to be very conscious of that," Holbrook said, "and provide the necessary training to make sure that we don't go down a slippery slope."

Although Holbrook doesn't want to get to move too quickly, he says whatever council passes will be enforced objectively with no exceptions.

Runyan expects ordinances for individual parks to go before council as early as next month.

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