COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Homicides. Aggravated assaults. Gangs. Gun violence. The struggle to recruit the good guys to stop the bad guys. These are not new problems, but problems that persist over several years within the city’s police department.
After a two week run of homicidal violence, we sat down with Chief Skip Holbrook to talk about the uptick in homicides and gun violence in the Capital City. He told WIS his department is focused on solving the five current unsolved homicides in 2019. In 2018, he said his department cleared all but one of the 16 total homicides. So far in 2019, there have been seventeen homicides.
The number CPD is always watching, the chief said, is the number of aggravated assaults. He said while his department is focused on solving the unsolved homicides, the number that is generally an even better pulse point for the violence across the city is the number of aggravated assaults.
An aggravated assault is essentially the “attempt to cause serious bodily injury.” What does that mean? Well, it means gun violence and any other type of violence that can cause serious bodily harm without regard for human life. It’s gun violence – without death. And much of it is from the same few individuals.
“The majority of our shootings are either labeled as gang-related slash drug-related,” Chief Holbrook said. “Or someone associated maybe through a few degrees of separation.”
From January 1st through August 11th of 2018, there were 450 aggravated assaults, according to CPD. In that same time in 2019, there were 491 aggravated assaults, which is a 9 % increase.
Holbrook said they've seen more conflict with some of their known gang members and associates. Much of the time, it's stemming from words on social media or arguments escalating into gunfire, according to Columbia’s top cop.
One of the big points he made during our sit-down was that he believes the laws surrounding illegal weapons are too weak to make a difference.
“There has got to be certainty that when someone fires a gun or when someone is caught for illegal possession of a gun, there has to be swift accountability,” he said. “That’s the only way we’re gonna stop this. And our community has to say enough is enough and report crime and people who are responsible for this.”
RECRUITING AND RETENTION
When we asked Chief Holbrook why it’s so hard to recruit and retain officers he answered, “Really?”
It’s so obvious, he said. It’s the job description, it’s the fact that they put their lives on the line every time they walk through the door to get to work. It’s also the extensive training they have to go through to actually get to work – a full year.
In 2018, Columbia Police hired 58 police officers and so far in 2019, they've hired sixteen. They can have more than 436 officers on the force and right now have 358. Chief Holbrook said that in the competition for the best wages, it can be hard to retain the best and the brightest.
"We've had to compensate for that,” Holbrook said. “And how you compensate for that, unfortunately… is you ride your employees. They're working extra duties, they're working overtime. We spend a lot of money on overtime. That's good for short term solutions, but it's not sustainable.'
In 2019 so far, 180 police officer candidates have applied. Ninety-five have taken the Police Officer Selection Test (POST) and 100 applicants have taken the Job-Related Physical Ability Test (JRPAT). Eight officers just graduated from the Criminal Justice Academy in July.