COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - It’s been two months since the Columbia City Council cracked down on large parties, but gatherings in Columbia continue.
On October 20, the Columbia Police Department gave WIS data showing its officers had responded to 31 different large gatherings across the city from Sept. 25 through Oct. 20.
Ten responses resulted in citations, and the size of the gatherings ranged from eight people to 300.
On Tuesday, Oct. 20, the city council did discuss “going back to the drawing board” to address a series of images showing large crowds of students over the weekend.
On Thursday, WIS sent the CPD data to At-Large Columbia City Councilmember Howard Duvall. He said it showed good responsiveness to the issue, but that more needed to be done.
Duvall said the council is considering toughening the language of its mask ordinance, potentially raising the $25 fine.
He cited one option was raising it to $100.
“We are looking at strengthening that language to help the students, that if you’re waiting in line, you can’t have 300 people waiting in line back to back. You need to have some social distancing. You need to wear your mask.”
He did not commit to supporting any particular figure for the fine but said he expected the issue to be addressed upon its next extension.
The current mask ordinance clocks out on Nov. 15.
WIS also sent the data to District 3 City Councilman Will Brennan. He said the district has “gone through a learning curve” and the worst cases are “outliers.”
Brennan said he is open to all options and is relying on the insights of Columbia-Richland Fire Chief Aubrey D. Jenkins to help address the issues and find solutions.
“Everybody sees it. Everybody sees it. We just have to hone in on that,” he said.
Jenkins said now may be the time for stricter enforcement of code violations and more citations.
He said the lack of social responsibility in the large gatherings is frustrating.
“You are preaching the same message over and over and over and over again and it comes to point where at what point do we quit educating and start taking more evasive actions and it’s probably at that point right now,” he said.
He said he and his team will also be active in speaking with apartment complexes about hiring security to prevent large parties and to educate them on the rules.
The University of South Carolina Director of Public Relations Jeff Stensland sent a statement reading:
“We have been urging students from the very beginning of the pandemic to conduct themselves appropriately to protect themselves and the community. We have done this through a sustained, coordinated campaign to encourage students to wear face coverings, practice physical distancing and avoid large in-person gatherings.
Many of our students are doing the right things and engaging with one another responsibly. In instances where students have displayed blatant disregard for public safety by organizing or hosting large parties, the university has levied interim suspensions and we will continue to take similar action in the future. So far, 59 students have faced disciplinary action.
We also are partnering with City and County government, law enforcement and private property owners to find additional solutions to curb mass student gatherings. In the end it will take a collective effort from all stakeholders--most importantly individual students.”
The Columbia Police Department was not available for an interview on the data, but did address its policies in earlier WIS reporting.
WIS asked the department why only 10 out of 31 gatherings were cited. It sent a statement reading:
“The Columbia Police Department will maintain the same posture as we have during the COVID-19 pandemic by adhering to City Ordinance 5-330. Officers will continue to educate, warn, issue citations, or make arrests based on a violation of the ordinance or another offense that is noted.
To address a more specific question, it’s important to point out that the success of the ordinance isn’t measured by citations, but rather by community compliance and assistance.”