'It scares the devil out of me': Sheriff and CPD Chief begin new gun initiative

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Kevin Speaks loves living in Booker Washington Heights, a community off West Beltline Boulevard in Columbia. However, as he admits, it's changed over the past several decades.

"The community is not as friendly – it's not as neighborly – as I knew it 35 years ago," he said.

As longtime homeowners move away or pass away, crime fills that void.

"A lot of the times, you're having to worry about whether or not you're going to be in the crossfire of a gunshot," Speaks said.

It's a problem all too familiar to Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook.

So far in 2018, Columbia police have documented 59 shooting incidents, eight people injured by gunfire, five people killed by gunfire, and 166 firearms seized from January to March. Lott estimates the County has seen very similar numbers in that timeframe.

"The community's sick of it," Lott said. "They're sick of what's going on and they want it to stop."

Now, with a plague of gun violence in mind, Sheriff Lott and Chief Holbrook are doing something new and something different.

"We're going to be focusing on certain people. This isn't a dragnet where we're throwing a big net. We're focusing on certain people – people we consider to be our most prolific gun crime offenders," Chief Holbrook said.

RELATED: CPD, RCSD unveil task force in hopes of curbing gun violence

After a recent shooting at Columbia Place Mall, Lott and Holbrook decided to form a 60-day taskforce that will use existing resources to monitor and police the area's most frequent gun offenders.

"We're going to do a top ten," Lott said. "That's what we're going to go after first."To punctuate the need to do something different, the two announced the new partnership behind a table covered in rifles, pistols, and shotguns.

"It scares the devil out of me,"  Lott said as he looked down at the table. "It scares me that this is what we've got in our community."

Even more striking, the guns on the table were just some of the 166 Columbia officers seized from January to March.

"We're sick and tired of being sick and tired of not being safe of not being safe in our community," Speaks said.

Even though Speaks has already noticed less crime in his neighborhood, he wants other neighbors to join him and the police in this new effort.

"Stand up! Take a stand!" he urged. "It's like a rat in a maze. You're on this side of the fence to protect your area of interest, and I'm on the other side to protect my area of interest to trap these rats in the middle, to have these rats apprehended, and to get them off the streets and the guns come also."

If you'd like to help in the new effort, Sheriff Lott said you can have the most impact by doing something simple -- take your guns out of your cars at night.

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