‘Gun crime remains our greatest threat’: Columbia police say work needs to be done after spike in violent crime

Updated: Aug. 12, 2019 at 6:11 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Following two shootings this past weekend in Columbia, the Columbia Police Department and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department are stepping up their efforts to crack down on gun violence.

On Monday, Columbia Police Chief “Skip” Holbrook began the press conference by saying “gun crime remains our greatest threat.”

He, then, proceeded to reveal a lengthy list of gun related incidents in Columbia.

Since August 2, authorities have responded to 20 crimes where a handgun was used illegally. Holbrook said his department received 18 ShotSpotter alerts where 58 rounds of gunfire were recorded and four guns, including three stolen firearms were seized.

Because of these alarming statistics, Holbrook has ordered an increase in staffing on weekends.

“I issued a directive yesterday requiring all administrative support personnel including lieutenants, captains, majors, Deputy Chief and myself to work Friday and Saturday nights until further notice,” Holbrook said. “We’ll work in all crime hotspots in our city, particularly in the North Metro Region, Millwood corridor, Five Points, and the Vista entertainment area.”

Holbrook also revealed that while property crimes were flat, violent crime was up 6%, adding that there is still work to do.

Also in attendance, was a representative from SLED and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who echoed the need for the community to come forward stating that incidents were going to keep happening if the community did not get involved.

Lott also called for parent involvement.

“We need help from parents,” he said. “There is no reasonable explanation for a 14-, 15-, 16-year-old child to be out 2-3 o’clock in the morning. We see that all the time.”

When asked if anything else could be done to lower the violence problem in Five Points and the City of Columbia, Holbrook said officials have to “have some ownership of the problem.”

Two separate early morning shootings injured a teenager in Five Points and left a man who was shot nearby fighting for his life.

“We haven’t had any meaningful gun legislation since I’ve been here,” Holbrook pointed out. “There is no consequence essentially, with the exception of federal charges, for people that are in possession of firearms.”

Holbrook clarified his statement to mean that he was referring to those who are illegally possessing firearms.

Staffing and resource challenges was also a topic brought up in the news conference. City Councilman Daniel Rickenmann pointed to that need.

“We need to give the officers every tool that they need to do their job the best they can. It’s not a money issue. It’s a safety issue,” Rickenmann said.

He went on to add that the issue of crime was not just in Five Points but stated that citizens and UofSC needed to step up.

“I think we have to put pressure both on our citizens but also the university. They need to make, they’re obviously absent here as you’ve seen today. They’re absent in Five Points. They load up kids and bring them down. Twenty years ago, you were allowed to have functions on campus,” Rickenmann said.

On Monday, a UofSC spokesman replied to calls for action by those at the news conference like Councilman Rickenmann with the following statement:

"While the fall semester has not begun and the incident on Sunday did not involve any University of South Carolina students, we are of course concerned about safety in any areas our students frequent. That’s why we have worked for years with the Columbia Police Department, city officials, neighborhood groups and business owners to make the area safer, even though it is not part of campus. These investments have made a difference and we will continue to explore additional opportunities for new safety initiatives in the future.

A few items of note:

  • Though Five Points is not part of our campus, we do provide three dedicated officers to support and assist with operations of the Columbia Police Department during the school year.
  • We have increased staffing of the university police department to provide additional personnel dedicated to crime prevention programming and bicycle patrols of campus and corridors leading to Five Points.
  • We also worked with the city to create a single drop-off and pick-up point for ride share services and a late night shuttle.
  • We created the office of Off-Campus Living and Neighborhood Relations with dedicated student affairs staff to help students better navigate off-campus life as well as the Carolina Community Coalition, which regularly brings together community members, university officials, law enforcement and others to discuss strategies to improve student safety.
  • We engage incoming students in safety education even before they come to campus, and continue it through our University 101 program.”

Councilman Moe Baddourah floated the idea of implementing a curfew in the Five Points district.

“Anyone under 21 of age in the hospitality districts in Five Points at night. So, if you don’t belong and can’t be in drinking establishments and of age 21 or under, you don’t need to be in Five Points past midnight. I’m willing to support or even talk to councilmembers whether we can do that legally or not,” Baddourah said.

The Columbia Police Department plans to continue their partnerships with RCSD while maintaining initiatives such as Cease Fire Columbia, which is an offender call-in, and a partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office called Project Safe Neighborhood.

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